Vinales set the third fastest lap of the race, just 0.049s slower than winner Enea Bastianini, on lap 14 of 20.

Unfortunately for Vinales, he was only in twelfth place at that stage and, although he went on to get the better of both team-mate Aleix Espargaro (for the first time this season) and KTM’s Brad Binder, he was left 12.6s from Bastianini at the flag.

“Actually I think it’s the weekend where I felt better with the bike. It was a tough Saturday because [in the race] we had the rhythm, the potential to be in the top three,” Vinales said.

“All the riders are fast in the early stages of the race and starting from behind costs us time, a few tenths, which become fundamental in the overall picture over 20 laps. We need to work on qualifying. This is one of the last pieces that still need to fall into place for us.

“Every race, I’ve felt better. More competitive and more at one with the bike. Still for sure there’s a long way to improve, but I can see myself in the front and this is very important. We are building a lot of confidence.”

Vinales arrives at this weekend’s opening European round holding 14th in the world championship, with a best finish of seventh place. That came at Termas de Rio Hondo, where Espargaro made history with Aprilia’s first premier-class victory.

Despite some promising free practice form, Texas was less successful for Espargaro, but he’s confident the unique features of the track created a one-off situation as he heads to Portimao holding third in the world championship.

“From the first lap of FP1 until the last lap of the race I want to forget everything! Remove the changes to the bike and let’s go to a normal track,” Espargaro said after the Austin race.

“This track is not normal, the up and downs, the bumps, it doesn’t suit our bike, doesn’t suit myself. We are lucky it’s the only circuit on the calendar like this. So I think that if I manage to finish in eleventh place and +12s at a very difficult circuit it means we can fight for the top five in the championship.

“Sincerely I can’t wait to go to Portimao and Jerez… more normal tracks with round corners, not corners where you have to completely stop the bike almost to zero and reaccelerate. Our bike doesn’t suit these types of corners.

“Maverick was a lot faster than me [in the COTA race], we finished more-or-less together but he had better pace, but he won here with the Yamaha. So clearly this bike is not for this track so I can’t wait to go to Europe.”

Aleix Espargaro: I want to stay in Aprilia, but...

Both Espargaro and Vinales are yet to sign for 2023. After his historic Termas de Rio Hondo victory, Espargaro, who joined the project in 2017, is keen to remain but said the initial talks had been ‘disappointing’.

“Sincerely my desire, my head wants to stay in Aprilia two more years,” Espargaro said in Texas. “I feel super strong, super fast. I want to stay.

“I did not have any offer yet. The first talks they have with my manager were really disappointing. I feel very sad because we are super far (apart). But there is still time. I hope they value my work here during these years.

“My desire is to stay. But obviously, I’ve proved I’m fast and I have experience developing the bikes. So the paddock will move and we will have other opportunities.

“But once again, I want to stay in Aprilia.”