The Aprilia rider is confident he has the raw speed to match Francesco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo, first and second on the grid, but the key will be who deals best with the inevitable tyre drop over 30 punishing laps.

“P4 is good enough,” said Espargaro. “I missed pole position by just two tenths.

“I think the pace is very similar between Fabio, Pecco and me. But I don't think it's going to be a matter of speed.”

The Spaniard admitted he had lost a bit of confidence after an early accident in FP4, but with hindsight his hard-tyre pace again looked very competitive.

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“With I crashed in FP4 with the hard tyres, I was already matching the fastest lap of the session and it was just lap two,” he said.

“I already had 10 laps on the front tyre, and a new hard rear, so the bike was pushing a little bit, plus the full tank. Maybe I had to wait to be a bit more careful because that lap I was already close to a 1m 20s which would have been good enough for P1.”

Reigning champion Quartararo, who went on to be quickest in FP4 with a 1m 21.065s, began the session with seven laps on a hard front, while switching between a new medium and hard rear.

Next best Bagnaia, fastest for most of the Sachsenring weekend, began with new hard tyres front and rear.

“I think I have the same speed as Pecco and Fabio. But the key is not going to be who is faster, the key will be the last 10 laps. For me the tyre degradation will be higher than in Barcelona,” said Espargaro, who came to regret allowing Quartararo to escape early in his home GP, before later handing second away when he thought the race finished one lap early.

“Tomorrow they say it's going to be even hotter, so the grip will be very low and here you spend a lot of time on the maximum angle on the left side.

“One the right side [of the tyre] I can do the 24 Hours of Le Mans!” he joked, “Because there are just two corners and the tyre works good. The problem is left. You are spending a lot of time spinning, spinning, spinning. So the temperature of the shoulder of the tyre gets very high.”

Espargaro, who has taken four podiums following his historic Aprilia victory in Argentina, will start the midway race of the season 22 points behind Quartararo.

Vinales: Closer and closer all the time

Team-mate Maverick Vinales achieved his first goal of direct access to Qualifying 2, but could only claim ninth on the grid, albeit only half-a-second from Bagnaia’s pole position pace.

“I’m pleased because I went direct to Qualifying 2, but I think we can be more ambitious because we have the potential to be inside the top 4-5 and somehow still, especially over one lap, it’s difficult for me to put everything together,” Vinales said.

“I miss one tenth there, one tenth there, so I never close a perfect lap. But it will come and I feel closer and closer all the time. So I'm not pleased with P9, but I'm pleased for the [way the] weekends and for the races are going.

“It's clear that we want more, but it takes time and we also need to understand very well how to make a step and never come back. To keep going forward. And once we are in the front to keep always in the front positions.”

Like Espargaro, Vinales continued to use the new Aprilia fairing upgrade on day two in Germany, even though it’s real benefits will be on tracks with long straights.

“We kept using it because there is nothing negative and just a bit more top speed,” said Vinales, who has a best Aprilia result of seventh.

“That’s always good and makes your life easier for overtaking.

“Here it’s not easy to overtake but I can overtake in the downhill, because the bike is very stable, and also on the main straight.”

A painful last place finish at the Sachsenring a year ago prompted Vinales to seek a new start, with Aprilia, for 2022.