On a dire opening day for all KTM riders at Sepang, both Pol Espargaro and Mika Kallio concede their team will need extreme setup changes to close the performance gap to the front-runners having seen its testing pace at the Malaysian track disappear.

Espargaro leads the Red Bull KTM charge in 16th place on the combined practice times but a massive two seconds off the pace of timesheet-topper Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha, while his fellow KTM riders Kallio and Tech3’s Hafizh Syahrin fared even worse at the bottom of the times and over three seconds off the pace.

Both Espargaro and Kallio were left bemused as setup tweaks and changes failed to provide any clear progress at Sepang, representative to KTM’s pace at the February pre-season test, which the Spanish rider fears has put the Austrian manufacturer “back to the old days” during its opening year in MotoGP.

“We are really, really struggling and I’m the one who is struggling less! I am two seconds from the first guy and this never happened to us [this season],” Espargaro said. “Maybe in the first year but since last year we have been so far.

“We have an idea of what we need to do tomorrow but we don’t know if it will work. It is quite radical but I think we have to do something like that because we are far from where we should be. Tomorrow will be a new day and we will face it because the moment we are going nowhere.”

“We are coming back to the old days when we were leaving Europe and struggling massively. I don’t know what to expect. We need to check what we have changed from the last races and what it could be and work with the Michelin guys to improve the rear setting and rear grip issue we are having in the last races.”

Kallio admits the key issue is a complete lack of front and rear grip which came as a shock compared to its pre-season test data at Sepang.

“During the winter test everything was more or less fine and we were a lot faster than today but suddenly, since the first laps, I felt that we did not take out the grip from the tyres,” Kallio said.

“It is basically the whole package and somehow the front and the rear. Of course we tried to set-up the bike in a different way but nothing seems to help that much; that’s the bigger negative because we don’t know what to do tomorrow.

“We’ll change a lot but now we need to see in what direction because today’s set-up was not any help. It is not nice to see all the KTMs are really struggling and not the way we wanted.”

The Finnish rider has his own suspicions on where KTM is falling down, a theory he wants to keep private until he can confirm it with the team’s engineering heads, but hints at a return to its setup used during pre-season testing and a change in bike height.

“We need to look at the test and the direction we took for the season and why it caused the problem,” he explained. “I have my own opinion of that and I need to see if it fits with the technicians.

“Somehow we need to go back to the winter set-up and that means doing something for the bike height. It is not easy. If you think in a logical way then everything should work now and if we go back to the winter set-up then that is not the logical way. Sometimes we need to step back a little but and make a restart and tomorrow it is time for that.”

KTM are one rider light for the Malaysian MotoGP after Miguel Oliveira was forced to withdraw after FP1 due to hand and shoulder injuries following his heavy practice crash at Phillip Island last weekend.