Red Bull KTM's Bradley Smith never doubted he would go 'backwards' in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans after an encouraging qualifying performance on Saturday.

The British rider qualified in 10th place on the grid while team-mate Pol Espargaro was eighth quickest on row three, representing the team's best Saturday by far this season.

Smith, though, said as a realist he knew he would be unable to maintain such a lofty position when it came to the race, with the 26-year-old finishing 13th behind team-mate Pol Espargaro.

"We always knew we were going to go backwards. We took full advantage of Saturday morning's tricky conditions, and we did an amazing result getting into Q2, but we're also realists. That's not where we expect to be," he said.

"This morning in warm-up, we were I think 18th and 19th [actually, Pol was 20th], so that's more realistic for what we are doing. But very happy with only being a second behind on the lap time. This afternoon, the front guys definitely made a step forward. They were running an extremely fast pace with the two Yamahas at the front, and we just weren't able to make that step.

"It kind of comes with the lack of set-up time during the weekend, but I think the boys did a fantastic job over these three days anyway, with such changing conditions. And I just made too many mistakes today, I didn't get a good start, then I ran off track two or three times, so it's totally my own fault."

Smith was strong in the wet during practice but says dry sessions and races is the best way forward for the development of the KTM.

"Right now for our project, having dry sessions and dry track time is the best way forward. But I think Saturday morning showed that given the opportunity, both riders are extremely hungry, extremely motivated, and we took the opportunity when it was there," he said.

"We know that those type of performances aren't going to come around too often this season, so when they were there, we took them with both hands. But the real lap times showed today, and the real performance of our bike showed today, and we know we still have a lot of work to do. Now we'll take that into our debriefs and try to bring something a little bit more special to Mugello."

Smith has scored points in three of the opening five races and admits it is a situation he did not envisage before the opening race of 2017 in Qatar.

"No, honestly not. I thought that it was going to take a little bit longer to figure things out. It's a very competitive class this year. All the satellite motorcycles that are out there are doing a tremendous job.

"We see [Johann] Zarco at the top, but even [Danilo] Petrucci, [Scott] Redding this weekend, [Jonas] Folger, all those bikes are very competitive this season. So to come in here and be as close as we are, I think is already showing good speed.

"The fact that we're ahead of some satellite Ducatis, some satellite Hondas, the Aprilia during sessions on a regular basis now is good. Our race still needs to improve, we've only had five races, five times that we've put 28 laps or whatever together, under our belt. So we keep on learning in those type of circumstances.

"The one-lap pace is coming along nicely, this morning in warm up, 1 second off, in qualifying 1.3 or 1.4, so that's getting there. But overall in races, with tire drop and that sort of thing, that's exposing our lack of experience, but we're getting there."

The English rider doesn't feel any great strides forward have been made with the bike since Jerez, although he revealed the wet practice sessions identified some areas where more improvement was needed.

"Difficult to say we've improved anything this weekend, just because the lack of track time. Although riding in the wet the first few days, we were able to pinpoint some important areas that need work. The front end of the bike for me, this weekend we tried something new, and we're going in the right direction there, just a little bit more stability on the brakes. So yes, there's a few things we've figured out," he said.

"They're doing a great job. Touch wood at the moment, the reliability is a strong point of the motorcycle, which means that we're out there every session and every race, and finishing right now. So long may that continue."