The Aprilia rider, who starts Sunday’s race 17 points from Quartararo and 10 behind Bagnaia, put his Aprilia sixth on the grid – but felt he had the speed for pole.

“I'm very, very happy,” Espargaro said. “Not just for the position on the grid, which is good enough, in front of my rivals as well, but also for the speed that I showed in the wet, something that I didn't expect.

“I made a big mistake on corner one, losing more than three tenths on my fast lap. If not, I was close to fight for the pole position and it was a shock. I didn’t expect to be that fast so I'm very happy.”

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But Sunday is expected to be dry, meaning riders will rely on the information from Friday practice to help decide bike set-up and tyre choice.

After making major set-up changes to the RS-GP, Espargaro had emerged fourth in the dry, just 0.068s from fastest man Jack Miller, with Bagnaia and Quartararo in-between.

“From ‘19 to here the Aprilia was another world. Before I did three places in first gear and I will go second. In another I did second and will go to third,” he said. “We changed the gearbox close to 20k’s per hour.

"We aso changed the balance, the electronics. But even like that on Friday I was very fast. So I think tomorrow can be a good day for us.

“The front tyre is clear, but it's difficult to understand which rear tyre everybody is going to race.

“I feel good with both [medium and soft]. I don't know if my strategy will be to copy my rivals or to go for a completely different decision to try to make more difference. It's something I need to analyse tonight.”

Espargaro added: “You have to use the brain, but I want to win tomorrow. I think I have a good opportunity. I am fast, the bike works quite good. The grid is a little bit strange.

“It's difficult to have a clear plan right now. Obviously, I have some ideas in my head, but you have to be intelligent during the race and try to adapt to every circumstance.”

Overtaking concerns for Quartararo

Still bearing the scars of his opening lap accident at Aragon, Fabio Quartararo was disappointed not to improve on his first flying lap in the wet qualifying and is concerned by the prospect of trying to overtake from ninth in a dry race.

“Not happy because I expected much better,” Quartararo said. “I still don't understand how it's possible to go into Q2, make [56.3] on my first lap and then no improvement.

“So I'm little bit lost in this track on the wet. The feeling was good, but how to make the lap time, it’s difficult to understand.”

The fact that he will start in the middle of his closest title rivals was of little consolation.

“The problem is the [bike performance] they have compared to us to overtake,” he said. “I'm more worried about where I can overtake because every braking is after a straight. So this will be my main problem for the race.

“At the moment [I can only overtake] at turn 7. That is not really a place to overtake, but it’s the only one that I can.

“But I feel ready and I feel that we can do something.

“The last race was really frustrating and the previous one in Misano I was also frustrated. So I want to do well and try to make a great race.”

Warm-up will now be especially important to choose between the soft and medium rear tyre.

“Not only for me, I think for everybody because we didn't have so much time on track,” Quartararo confirmed. “The tyres will be important, especially soft or medium rear, the hard I think nobody will use.”

Bagnaia: This result is not acceptable

Previously formidable in the wet, Francesco Bagnaia was at a loss to explain his 12th and last position in Qualifying 2.

“I think something is not working, sincerely,” said the Italian. “Last year I was always competitive in wet. This year, I’m always struggling. The only time we raced in the wet was in Indonesia and I finished 15th. Then all the practice in wet I was struggling.

“Maybe in this moment on this bike, I’m not at my best in the wet. We need to check the data because it’s not possible that something hasn’t happened. I was 2sec (from pole), slower than this morning and was in better conditions.

“In this moment this result is not acceptable and I want to discover why… I don’t have feeling on my bike so it’s difficult to know my limit.”

Nonetheless, Bagnaia - whose four-race win streak ended with a last-lap pass by Enea Bastianini at Aragon – still has his sights set on a seventh victory of the season.

“My main objective is not Fabio, it’s to be in front and try to win,” he said. “I think considering yesterday my pace in the dry is very good, very constant also with used tyres. I’m sure our level and performance is high [but] if it’s wet tomorrow it will be a different story for me.“

Bastianini 15th after qualifying fall

Outside title contender Enea Bastianini, who has closed to 48 points from Quartararo with his fourth win of the season, will start a lowly 15th after a crash in Qualifying 1.

“This morning I was fast from the start. I bring the correct confidence in the wet. I was already prepared for the qualifying but at turn 5 I lost the front again! And it was finished,” said the Gresini rider, who was 14th but 0.4s from the top in the dry on Friday.

“I’m ready for the race but warm-up will be important in the dry conditions. We have to make the bike strongest in the braking, to attack and close the gap to the leading group.

“I’m confident to do this. But it will be really hard because from 15th it’s dangerous, also at the start. I’ll try to do my best to recover this gap… I’ll try to arrive at the best place possible as early as possible. My target is the top ten tomorrow or the top eight, but we will see.”