Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro has plenty of doubts about exactly how Sunday's season-opening Qatar MotoGP will play out.

But there are two things he is sure about.

The first is that the Ducatis, with their record-breaking top speed, will lead during the early stages. The second is that there will be a big drop in lap times at the end of the grand prix.

What he's not so sure about is the widespread prediction that, due to ultra-close fastest times and the need to save tyres, a big group of riders will fight it out at the front.

Instead, Espargaro feels some contenders could already start to struggle by the halfway stage.

"I'm a little bit curious. Everybody is saying that here in Qatar we will have a big group, I'm not that sure," said Espargaro, who has qualified in eighth place (+0.5s).

"We can see the difference between the riders in FP4, we can see that some Yamahas are a very strong, but there is no doubt that the first part of the race that the Ducatis will lead because there's no way you can be in front of them with the power they have.

"So the race will be very fun, but I'm not sure by mid-race we will have a group of eight or nine bikes. We have to see the pace of everybody but I think some will start to drop a little bit earlier, before mid-race.

"We are seeing super-fast lap times of '53 low. But believe me tomorrow, we will see in the main group at the end of the race close to '56. Three-seconds difference. So the riders that are able to manage the rear tyre better, at the end of the race can make a big difference.

"I will choose the soft-soft tyres, I'm a little bit more in trouble with a full tank to stop the bike in the first part of the race than with rear tyre consumption, which I think maybe can be the biggest problem for Ducati

"Maybe Yamaha will struggle more at the beginning of the race to be able to stay with the Ducatis. So I think everybody has his own problems. And we will see who is able to put everything together."

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In terms of his own prospects for the race debut of the so far impressive 2021 RS-GP, Espargaro feels a top six – which would at least match Aprilia's best of the four-stroke era - is realistic.

"I think this is close to the limit for us in qualifying configuration because I did two, I don't like to say perfect laps, but close to perfection," Espargaro said.

"The problem was that, in this temperature, every time I lost the front. So I couldn't make more corner speed. It was kind of a limit. And I was very angry because I felt like I couldn't release the brakes more.

"But to be able to control losing the front in every corner in qualifying already means this bike and me are in a good connection. So, I'm happy about this.

"Tomorrow will be the first race for this bike so it's difficult to know what we can do but in FP4 I managed many laps in '54 high. Yes, Maverick was faster, but the rest were not much better than me.

"So, I think we can fight for top 6 tomorrow, realistically. And if the race is in a group and we are able to save the tyre and be competitive in the last 5 laps, who knows?

"This is what I'm aiming for, trying to be calm at the beginning of the race, save the maximum amount of tyre possible. And then let's cross the fingers for the last 5 laps."