Despite wearing the expression of a man that was slightly underwhelmed, Aleix Espargaro described his top ten finish in the MotoGP curtain raiser in Qatar as “positive” as he seeks to start 2019 with a series of solid point scoring finishes.

The Catalan admitted he was “expecting [a] slightly better” result in the desert, but after finding it difficult to pass Jack Miller, who was suffering from an issue with his seat, he and his Aprilia RS-GP overtook Franco Morbidelli late on to secure tenth place, nine seconds back of race winner Andrea Dovizioso.

“It was not so bad,” said Espargaro of the result. “A top ten in the first race is positive. I had a great start. I expected to be able to stay with the front group for a long time but especially with new tyres we are losing a lot of traction.

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“It was super difficult to follow the leading group in the first five or six laps. I lost a lot in acceleration. When everyone started to lose group I was getting more and more competitive. I lost a lot of time behind Miller. He was doing strange things and it was difficult to overtake him.

“As soon as I overtook him [Takaaki] Nakagami had a strong pace. We went forward. At the end I was able to pass Morbidelli and get a top ten. It’s not the best result of my life. I was expecting slightly better. But it’s not so bad for the first race and from here we need to keep building.”

While missing out on acceleration and traction, Espargaro was pleased with the RS-GP’s stability under braking, as well as a much improved top speed in fifth and sixth gears.

“I mean, the best thing of the bike – apart from the top speed, which, today my bike has been very fast in fifth and sixth gear – is the braking stability,” he said. “It was super good. Actually I was very, very strong on the brakes.

“We did a great choice with the tyres and with the brakes we are good. With the top speed we are good. We have to improve the top speed and the traction, the acceleration.

“I think it’s a combination of the torque in the low RPM and also the pure traction. Something between electronics and geometry is not that easy to be clearly in this area. Obviously we are looking to improve the traction.”

On his hopes for the second round of the season in Argentina, Espargaro continued: “It’s a track that I love. In the past I’ve always been competitive there. I almost did the pole position three years ago.

“With Aprilia I was also very competitive in the last two seasons. I can’t wait to go there. This year’s bike in fifth and sixth gear is strong. There is a long straight in Termas de Rio Hondo. So I can’t wait to go there.

“The important thing is to keep doing points, trying to finish in the top ten at the next two races so we can arrive in Jerez with more than 20 points. This would be fantastic.”

Espargaro was puzzled by Miller’s antics before understanding the Australian was struggling to maintain his riding position due to an issue with his seat.

“It was a really dangerous situation,” he said of Miller’s decision to sit up and rip his seat lining off on lap two. “I don’t know what happened. Obviously he had some problems. I was actually one or two seconds behind the leading group and in the moment before the last corner, all riders were in many parts of the track.

“Actually I don’t understand why no one had an accident. From there he was doing strange lines. Clearly he had a problem. I really struggled to overtake him. I lost a lot of time.

“Once I overtook him my pace was similar to or maybe even better than the guys in front of me. MotoGP is always very tight. If you lose time it’s very difficult to recover the gap.”

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