10:21, Saturday. Assen. It's raining heavily amid MotoGP's third free practice session of the weekend. Yet, after a day of toil in dry conditions, Jorge Lorenzo sits second fastest. All appears well.

If only that could last. Just over four hours later and the five-time world champion was contemplating his worst ever qualifying in the premier class. On any normal day, Lorenzo failing to make it out of Q1 would represent a disaster. But here, he was outside the top 20.

Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi's face told the story of their star rider's struggles. When the Dutch track didn't have so much water lying on the surface, as in FP3, Lorenzo could fly. In the afternoon, as the rain intensified, he was nowhere. Or, to borrow the Majorcan's vernacular, "in trouble."

His 21st place was the worst he has placed in qualifying since his days in the 125cc class (Jerez, 2003). This was, he said, a sign of the intensity of the competition in MotoGP. In previous years, an off-day could result in a sixth. Not now. Not in 2017.

"Well, again we come back to the same, and we can be pessimistic, and think, 'Wow, what a disaster, worst position ever since 2003'," he began. "But it's like that. MotoGP today is like that. Seven years ago, if you finish one second behind the first rider, and you are fifth.

"Now, you finish one second behind, you have some problems, the bike doesn't feel great, you lose one second to the top guys and you are twentieth. With my lap time in Q1, I would be fifth in the Q2. But I couldn't stay in the Q2.

"I got the worst feeling of the day in just the crucial moment, the most important moment, and I'm 21st. This is MotoGP this year, and you have to accept it, and don't be depressed about this. In Montmel?, I was second, and two weeks later I'm second from the back.

"You don't feel good, you don't feel the rear has any grip. Then you have to try everything. Why Redding or Petrucci were so quick, and Dovi and myself were not. Why is something we have to study. But when I feel good, and most of the time the Ducati feels good in the wet, I'm competitive. When I don't have grip and I don't feel good, I'm in trouble."

On the possible reasons behind his afternoon of toil, he said, "When there was not so much water, I was one of the fastest. When you have fifteen minutes with a lot of water, it looks like a disaster, like riding on ice. It was like the rear tyre was two or three steps harder.

"There was completely no grip. And I don't understand why some other riders - not everyone, because a lot of riders have difficulties today - they find a way to be competitive. Could be the weight of the rider, could be the riding style, could be maybe the tyres, I don't know. It's difficult to understand."

Were Michelin's wet tyres, deemed too hard by some, in any way to blame? "Could be," came the measured response. "Could be that for these conditions, even the softer rear tire was too hard. And for shorter riders, lighter riders, riders who are not aggressive, it's difficult.

"Maybe in these conditions, for [Marc] M?rquez, [Danilo] Petrucci, [Scott] Redding, they can be more aggressive on braking and with the throttle, they are heavier - well, not M?rquez - but they can create more temperature or something like that. With not so much water, it was a perfect feeling today."

And his plans for tomorrow's race? "Be very careful," said Lorenzo, fourth last time out under the Catalan sun, "because it's not a situation I am used to, I'm not used to be so far back on the grid, with a lot of guys in front of me.

"And also to do what I can do in every corner. Not less and not more, that will be the secret. Try to make a good start, try to get past some rows, and then if I have the pace to overtake other riders, little by little go forward."

By Neil Morrison

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