But it might even have been pole position had Espargaro not caught the sister RS-GP a little too soon, forcing him to close the throttle at the final corner.

“Thanks to Maverick because he pushed [in front of me]… So really pleased about that. Thankful about this,” said Espargaro.

“I gave him a one-second [lead] but he had some problems in qualifying and I caught him too early in the last corner. I closed the throttle because if not we would collide.

“When I closed the throttle, the bike slid so much and I lost the chance of pole position. I think I was one tenth or even more under Martin’s lap.

“So I think I could fight for pole, but I also had Maverick’s tow for the rest of the lap, so I'm happy.”

With Vinales left just twelfth on the grid, it looked like he might have sacrificed his own qualifying to help Espargaro.

Instead, as Espargaro had spotted, Vinales battled unexpected grip issues and couldn’t go faster on the soft than with the hard rear in final practice.

“Of course I gave the [tow] to Aleix for the slipstream, but I don’t sacrifice [my lap],” Vinales said. “I pushed to the maximum. I did the same lap time as in FP4. Quite frustrating, but sometimes there are inexplicable things and today was one of those days.

“[I was missing] grip from the tyre, I had more grip with the hard than the soft, but it sometimes happens. We can’t get crazy and change the bike because our pace is good.”

Vinales was fastest in final practice after switching from a hard to medium rear tyre, while Espargaro had unintentionally towed Honda's Marc Marquez to the top in FP3.

Aleix: ‘I will go 100% attack. I have to risk’

Espargaro will start Sunday’s Australian MotoGP between title rivals Francesco Bagnaia (third) and Fabio Quartararo (fifth).

But while Bagnaia is just two points behind Quartararo, Espargaro is 20 from the top and knows he must go on the attack.

“The good thing is that - it's not that I have no chance in the championship, for sure I have chances, but I have nothing to lose,” Espargaro said. “I have to recover 20 points.

“They have 20 points advantage over me. So they can manage a little bit more. I will go 100% attack. I have to risk. And unlike Thailand and Japan, I feel strong and fast here. So let’s try.”

Tyre consumption will decide victory

Espargaro, like the rest of the grid, now has some big decisions to make over tyre selection.

“Martin is fast, Zarco is fast. I like the pace of Bezzecchi and for sure the three contenders for the championship [will be there]. So it's going to be about who manages better the rear tyre,” Espargaro said.

“At the beginning if you destroy the tyre you can go 2-3 times quicker. But you will pay in the end. In 2019 Iannone and I were in the lead group for 15 laps but then we couldn't follow them.

“The big difference will be the last 6-7-8 laps because the tyre consumption is high. The one who is able to be fast but at the same time not destroy the rear tyre, will win.”

'Different from Pecco and Fabio'

Espargaro explained: “You are faster with the soft. You can maintain ‘29s for 8-9-10 laps, with a medium for 15 laps and I think the hard will last more, but obviously, you are not that fast.

“Tomorrow looks like it's not going to be really warm out there. For sure, the soft is not an option for me. But the medium and the hard I'm still [deciding between]. The same with the front.

“It’s the first time this season that I’m unsure on both the front and rear, between medium and hard.

“The thing is it's not about speed. I'm fast with both tyres, so it's going to be a matter of the weather conditions and also what Fabio and Pecco choose.

“In the past, in some races like Le Mans, Mugello, I had some doubts and I decided to go with the same tyre as Pecco and Fabio. Here I will try to go different…”