Back, neck, jaw and rib fractures in Portimao kept Espargaro away from his GASGAS-branded machine until Silverstone, with Austria marking just his second full event of the season.

Still far from fully fit, the shorter Saturday race provided Espargaro’s best chance to perform and, avoiding the turn-one mayhem, he climbed from 16th to seventh on the opening lap, which became sixth after Luca Marini’s accident.

Espargaro kept his pace to the end, taking the chequered flag just half a second behind Red Bull KTM’s Jack Miller and a fraction ahead of brother Aleix, winner at Silverstone, and his Aprilia team-mate Maverick Vinales.

CHAOS in the MotoGP Sprint & Zarco joins Honda!

“It’s just the Sprint and sixth position, but Pol’s here,” said Aleix. “A lot of people in the paddock - and this makes me very angry - forget who Pol is, what he achieved, what he did for this brand [KTM].

“You have a big injury for 1 or 2 months and it looks like you have to go home, you have to retire. We have to be more patient in the sport because it’s not easy sometimes.”

The #41 added: “We see other riders that come back after an injury and they say, ‘Oh, I’m not ok’, for ten GPs. ‘I still have some pain!’ My brother almost finished in a chair. He was not even able to eat or walk for a month and he finished sixth in the [Sprint], his second GP [weekend], with almost no experience on the bike.

“We have to have more patience, we have to give more time. This is the most difficult class in the world.”

But with Pedro Acosta needing a KTM MotoGP seat for next season and the Austrian factory’s quest for more grid places so far thwarted, patience might be in short supply.

Espargaro, like team-mate Fernandez, has a contract for 2024 but if a fifth RC16 doesn’t materialise for Acosta one of them might need to revert to test and wild-card duties.

“For me, it’s a complicated situation,” Aleix said of the future KTM/GASGAS line-up.

“Pol has a contract. But apart from the contract, and full respect for the other riders of KTM and GASGAS, [but] no one is better than Pol.

“So apart from the contracts, if you’re the boss of the brand and you’re looking for the best riders, they are not better than Pol. This is my opinion.”

Pol Espargaro - who went on to claim 14th in the Grand Prix race, before a penalty dropped him behind Miller and Fernandez - was part of KTM’s original 2017 MotoGP line-up, remaining with the project until leaving for Repsol Honda at the end of 2020.

Although Brad Binder took the honour of KTM’s first MotoGP win, and Miguel Oliveira added two more victories during 2020, Espargaro’s five podiums and fifth in the world championship remains the best season so far for an RC16 rider.

Binder is currently fourth in this year's standings.