That fourth place smashed Fernandez’s previous best result of tenth and he earned top RC16 honours by overtaking factory KTM star Jack Miller during his rise from twelfth in the grid.

The reigning Moto2 champion, who had already surprised by pushing Fabio Quartararo out of Qualifying 2 on Saturday, spent the closing stages in a battle with Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro, keeping the MotoGP race winner at bay by half-a-second.

“So happy. So happy,” smiled Fernandez, the only rookie on the 2023 grid. “Because after qualifying, which was a good day, I crashed in the sprint. Then [in warm-up] I had another crash, so I lost a bit of confidence.

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“I also took a risk with the front tyre, as [in the sprint] it was a mistake to go to the medium. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll go soft and I try to manage it to the end, and if I struggle at the end, I will try to survive’.

“So I took the gamble, and I got my feelings back, managed to do a good start, and stay with the group through the race. I was just pushing, I was feeling good. I stayed there.

“I managed to do a good pace, and then on the last lap, Aleix passed me, so I had a good battle with him also.”

Explaining how he managed to hold off Espargaro on the hard front tyre, Fernandez revealed:

“The front dropped and I think Aleix was with the hard, so he was coming fast.

“But because the drop of the soft comes in mid corner, so you can still brake hard. So I braked hard, and tried to close the lines.

“He passed me on the brakes, but I was braking very hard, so he went a little bit wide, and I passed him back.

“I tried to defend my position, I won the battle, so everything was good! So happy.”

The timing of the result was also perfect, with Moto2 star Pedro Acosta rumoured to be seeking a move to MotoGP with KTM next year.

Fernandez insisted it wasn’t a factor in his mind and made clear he has the highest of goals:

“I'm happy, because it's a fourth in MotoGP, in the fifth race of the season. I'm focused on my job, and also I want more. I don't want to be fourth. I'm here to win, so I'm focused on my own job, that's it.”

But the first target will be to carry the Le Mans form over to future rounds.

“We changed some ergo things. It's not that they brought me new pieces, it's just I feel a little bit better riding the bike, and I think for the rest of the tracks it will also be good. So let's see.

‘A great achievement for a rookie’

Tech3 team manager Nicolas Goyon said: “What an emotional conclusion to the weekend. A super-good result from Augusto and we knew he could make a good result here, but he’d suffered some crashes and it was going up-and-down.

“We made a reset after warm-up and made some little changes on the bike. We went for it, and he had an amazing race to reach 4th, just 1.5 seconds from the podium which is a great achievement for a rookie. “We’re so happy.”

With Jack Miller suffering a late fall, Brad Binder was the next best KTM rider, in sixth place.

Binder took the flag seven-seconds behind Fernandez after enduring opening lap contact from Alex Marquez and a long lap penalty.