But a three-second post-race penalty for exceeding track limits not only dropped the GASGAS rider behind both Miller and Fernandez, but outside of the points to 16th, where he had started.

After a strong sixth in the Sprint, the injured Espargaro knew he faced a gruelling physical test during his first dry grand prix race of the season.

“In the Sprint race I could manage to compensate with other parts of the body,” explained Espargaro, who suffered serious neck and back injuries at Portimao. “But I woke up [Sunday] morning in really tough physical conditions.

“The race was very hot! Very tough and very demanding. I struggled quite a lot.

CHAOS in the MotoGP Sprint & Zarco joins Honda!

“I did not feel good, I did not feel fast and I could not use my body to improve the drive or not waste so much tyre. For sure you lose a lot of performance.

“At the end, I found myself behind Miller and I could overtake him and finish in front of my team-mate. I thought ‘Not too bad…’ But then I saw the penalty and that I was behind them on the [results].

“It was a bit painful, but, OK. The target for this weekend was to do a good Sprint race and end the [Grand Prix] race as best I could. I finished in P14 which would have been some points. That’s all that matters. The [penalty] is not important.

“Now we move to Barcelona and Misano and every weekend is going to be a little bit better.

“P14 is not bad at all, but for sure I want more. I don’t want to be so far from Binder.”

Espargaro continues to have nerve pain in his neck from the Portimao practice injuries, “but even like that, I was performing this weekend, in front of one GASGAS and one KTM on Sunday in the race. In the Sprint when you just need to push aggressively, I was close to Miller…so it was not bad at all.”

The finishing order of the RC16s has taken on increasing significance after KTM’s home event passed without a public announcement on where Moto2 title leader Pedro Acosta will be placed.

Both Espargaro and Fernandez say they have a contract for next season, but with the factory's quest for more grid places apparently thwarted, one of the Tech3 riders might need to make way.