But if he had someone managed to stay on the tail of Jorge Martin, who went on to deliver a new all-time lap record, the Aprilia rider might have joined him in breaking the 1m 58s barrier.

Instead, Espargaro crashed at Turn 8 and will line-up tenth on the grid, for a race where he must beat world championship leader Francesco Bagnaia by at least three points to stay in the fight until the Valencia finale.

“I tried everything sincerely,” said Espargaro, who had been just 20th after a nightmare opening day. “I'm a little bit disappointed and sad because I had the feeling before arriving here, after the tests this winter, that I will have the pace to fight for the victory or podium. But we are very far. We have no speed at all. It's difficult to fight. We have no traction.

“I can’t give you a reason why. It's very frustrating. I don't understand what's going on. Everybody has the same lap time as in the winter and we are a lot slower.

“Anyway, I'm here to fight. This is why I tried everything in the qualifying. I crashed in Turn 8 but if I didn't crash there, I would crash in Turn 9 or in Turn 11. I was completely out of control, but I had to try and if I completed this lap I was maybe under ’58.

“But the bike is completely different than the test. I can't understand. The engine’s slower in acceleration and we have no traction. We have a lot of chattering.”

Suzuki bike in the bin, WHAT A WASTE! | Malaysian MotoGP 2022

Espargaro had set a 1m 58.157s for second place at the February test, which would have put him on the front row if he had repeated it on Saturday.

“It's strange because, for Maverick and I, the feeling is that we have less grip, but the rest did more or less exactly the same lap time as February.

“Except Martin, who was on another planet today!”

‘Risk as much as I can in the race’

Espargaro wasn't the only title contender in trouble during qualifying with Bagnaia falling twice on Saturday for ninth on the grid and second in the points Fabio Quartararo injuring his hand in final practice on his way to twelfth.

“Even if I don't have the best speed, Fabio had some problems, some small injury and starts behind me back. Pecco looks like he is feeling - which is normal - the pressure and also starts one position in front of me. So everything can happen.”

Espargaro added: “I’ll risk as much as I can. I know I said that many times, but I'm doing it actually! I risked in Australia until the last corner and I will do the same tomorrow.

“I'm in a different position to Fabio and Pecco, I have to get at least 14 points here and 14 points in Valencia if I want to win this title, even if they both crash [in both races]. But if I'm not able to score 14 and 14, I will not be able to win whatever happens.

“So it's very difficult, but I will try my best. I will risk a lot tomorrow and let's see what goes on."

“Sincerely, I don't feel big pressure, I mean the opportunity to win the title for me is very small.

“But it is normal to feel some pressure. I mean, Fabio won one time the title, but he doesn’t have the same bike as Pecco so it's normal that he feels the pressure. He knows that he doesn’t have the same weapon to fight.

“And Pecco is fighting for his first MotoGP World title. So everybody in this world would be nervous, maybe except [ice cool Finn] Mika Kallio! OK, it's normal."

And after rain showers on Friday and Saturday, what if the race is wet?

"It can be wet, flag-to-flag... Full gas, risking as much as possible, I'm doing tonight with Antonio, my crew chief, like a puzzle. I will put what I like from one bike to the other. I will move the engine to the chassis. We will try our best until the last lap at Valencia!"

Espargaro's team-mate Maverick Vinales will start from eighth.