Andrea Dovizioso faces a major battle to retain the MotoGP World Championship lead during tomorrow's Catalan Grand Prix.

The Ducati star - who holds a slender one-point lead over the Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, with Suzuki's Joan Mir just four points back - qualified in just 17th place, while his three main rivals are all inside the top 8.

Once again, braking performance with the revised 2020 Michelin rear tyre construction was the reason for Dovizioso's misery.

"I still struggle on braking. It's very frustrating because it's so difficult to brake in the right way with this tyre for me," said the Italian. "And it's the only reason I'm at the back.

"On the corners, on the exit, I'm quite good. But in the braking I'm bad and when I put the new tyre and everybody has to push I made a mistake and I'm not able to use the potential and it's the reason why I'm 17th."

It also means that, while Dovizioso would normally be a favourite for the high tyre-wear conditions expected on Sunday, he simply doesn't have the speed to control the race.

"The situation is completely different to the past. You need the speed to save the tyre and be strong at the end of the race and this is not our situation," he said.

Now in the eighth round of the season, Dovizioso admitted he didn't expect his braking issues to continue for so long.

"In the last three years we work a lot on the data and we were able to improve and adapt to the tyre, the riding style, the competitors... But with this tyre on the brakes it's completely different and it's very, very difficult for me and it's the reason why still I'm not that fast. It's very frustrating," he said.

"I don’t think it's about the track, because already we change a lot of tracks and grip. It's to adapt to the tyre. I don’t know. I expected to be much better in this moment of the championship."

Since the next best Desmosedici rider, Jack Miller, 20 points behind Dovizioso, while the likes of Johann Zarco, Danilo Petrucci and Francesco Bagnaia are around 50 points from the top, Dovizioso currently offers Ducati it's best chance of winning the 2020 title.

With that in mind, what has the factory's reaction been to try and solve Dovizioso's problems? Any special meetings or extra staff assigned to help?

"What we can do is work very hard with my crew like we did in the past," Dovizioso replied. "There is nothing special to do. So we are working, we are fighting, we are struggling!

"It's very hard, especially when already we did a lot of races and this is bad. This is bad, but it's difficult to explain from a rider's side exactly what's going on on the bike when I have to approach the brake.

"But that is the problem and it's very, very frustrating," he reiterated.

Meanwhile, Pramac's Jack Miller was the top Ducati, and leading non-Yamaha, in fourth place.

"Here it feels more strange than anywhere else. You can't really do anything to upset the tyre. You can't put the bike in the corner aggressively, you can't open [the throttle] aggressively, just everything has to be so silky smooth. That's the biggest thing I've noticed," explained the Australian.

"Turn 9 is one of the key points, Turn 4 another. If you put the bike in too aggressively it'll start just sliding immediately. So you kind of have to gradually put the angle nice and smoothly. You can't have too much engine brake either, you've got to let it be free a little bit. You can't do anything aggressively. That's all I've found.

"The smoother I can be, the faster I can go. So that's what we are trying to do."

Starting alongside Miller on row two will be Avintia's Johann Zarco, in sixth.

"A good qualifying," said the Frenchman. "I think the first row was possible but I should follow someone on the last run. I tried but did not manage well so I did the lap alone. I'm happy because it's all coming with logic. I have it under control and this is positive.

"I was worried yesterday with the race pace because with used tyres it was pretty hard to control the bike, but this afternoon I got a much better feeling. Maybe it's still not podium pace but starting sixth I can wish for this and I believe tomorrow I can improve and find something better to be constant in the '41s."

The Frenchman, riding a GP19, has also been boosted by receiving the factory's adjustable ride-height system this weekend.

"Yes, I will use it during the race. I think it can be useful to overtake someone on the straight. I'm getting used to it. It's maybe not automatic for me yet, but it doesn't disturb me so I'm quite happy."

Dovizioso's team-mate Danilo Petrucci qualified tenth on the grid. The #9 suffered similar braking problems to Dovizioso, but has recently made progress by switching his attention from the set-up of the engine-braking electronics to bike balance.

"Yes, we made progress since the second week in Misano," Petrucci said. "We understood that we can only solve the problem by having a good balance on the bike, and not working any more on the electronics, because the tyres are really sensitive. So moving again the electronics is really really difficult, you have to have a good setup.

"So I feel better with braking. We are still missing something, it's quite hard here because we can only use the soft tyre and I always need a lot of support to stop the bike.

"Here, we cannot use our braking stability and our power going out of the corner, because there is no traction. So I prefer a bike that allows me to carry the speed inside the corner, and maybe for this reason also some other manufacturers are so fast. Carrying the speed inside the corner is the key with this tyre, because especially in this situation in this track, it's really difficult to find good traction in the exit of the corner.

"I'm happy about the progress, not really happy about the results in qualifying, but tomorrow the race will be survival, because we saw a difference of seconds between the new tyre and the old tyre."

Miller's team-mate Francesco Bagnaia starts 14th with Bagnaia's team-mate Tito Rabat 22nd and last.



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