Starting just 17th on the grid for Sunday's Catalunya MotoGP, world championship leader Andrea Dovizioso probably thought things couldn't get much worse.

But, after a good start, the Ducati rider wouldn't make it beyond Turn 2 of the race, having been the innocent victim of a three-rider chain reaction ahead.

As Pol Espargaro's KTM slowed at the apex of Turn 2, Dovizioso's team-mate Danilo Petrucci clipped his back wheel.

The Italian kept control, but just behind him Johann Zarco - anticipating an accident - grabbed the front brake and fell from his Avintia machine, which then scooped the luckless Dovizioso into the gravel.

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Petrucci was only aware of the incident after the race had finished.

"I was checking just now," he said. "Pol braked in front of me and I touched him, my front wheel on his rear wheel, and Johann just braked and crashed.

"I'm so sorry for the crash behind me, but I almost crashed myself, so I was really, really careful not to touch the front brake even if Pol was braking in front of me and I only just avoided crashing myself. I'm really sorry for Johann and Andrea but I don't think I have any fault."

Zarco said: "In turn two, Petrucci had a moment to avoid contact with a KTM in front of him, and I had to brake not to run into him. It wasn't violent, but as soon as I touched the front brake, I was down.

"It's a shame for me and for Dovi, but that's racing, unfortunately. Turn 2 was on the limit temperature-wise, as other crashes proved it."

Dovizioso's anguish had been clear to see at the time, but he didn't apportion any blame afterwards.

"There's nothing to say because it was a racing incident," commented the #4.

"It's very disappointing, especially when something like this happens you feel very frustrated because you can't try anything. For the championship, we lost a lot of points today."

Dovizioso went into the race with a slender one-point advantage over the Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, with Suzuki's Joan Mir four point behind.

The Italian's first DNF of the season means he has now dropped to fourth in the standings, with six rounds to go, 24 points from race winner Quartararo.

Still struggling to regain his previous braking form with the revised 2020 Michelin rear tyre construction, Dovizioso estimated that he might have been able to finish somewhere near Pramac Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia, in sixth, on Sunday.

"When you watch from the outside it always looks easier, so it's difficult to say. The pace in practice wasn't too bad and similar to Pecco. At the end of the race he was really fast so I don't know if he found something or if that would have been possible for me," he said.

But even in a 'crazy' season, Dovizioso doesn't think such results are enough to win the world title. Absent from the podium in the four rounds since his victory in Austria, Dovizioso's first concern is to be more competitive.

"The point is to be fast; we have to do that first and then we can think about the championship," he said.

"The championship is very tight and anything can happen, as you see, so every race is important. It's not about any individual race, it's about the remaining six races. Anything is possible.

"I'm very disappointed and frustrated by today but, like I've said, we have to come back with good speed because if we don't have that there's no reason to speak about the championship."