Aleix Espargaro matched Aprilia's best four-stroke MotoGP result with sixth place in Sunday's Portimao race.

But the Spaniard was left feeling a little frustrated at once again being unable to join the podium fight.

Espargaro had already taken the RS-GP to a new competitive high when he crossed the finish line 5.382s from victory in the final Qatar race, albeit only in tenth position.

The statistics were then reversed at Portimao, where Espargaro's sixth place was Aprilia's best finish since Australia 2019 with Andrea Iannone, but saw the time gap to victory grow to 8.885s.

Nonetheless, Espargaro believes Aprilia just needs to make 'the last step' to fight for podium places.

"Today was not bad, but sincerely I expected a bit more. In the warm up I was very strong, I finished with 20 laps on the rear tyre and I managed to finish in 1'39s. But I couldn't repeat that in the race," said Espargaro.

"I think we had 42 degrees track temperature, I had no grip at the beginning, I was very nervous, I couldn't accelerate, I made two or three highsides.

"Then lap by lap, slowly I started to recover some places and in the last part of the race I could ride in 1'39, but the problem was that the guy in front of me, Binder, was even faster!

"So it was unbelievable, because every lap I was faster, but I couldn't catch them for the podium. So a little bit frustrating.

"But anyway, we proved one more time that we are still not perfect to fight for the victories and podiums, but we are very very close.

"We have a good bike, good balance, but we still need the last step of competitiveness."

For comparison, Espargaro had been 16sec from victory on his way to eighth place in last November's Portimao race.

"[Eight seconds] can feel like it's a big step, but it's not like this," he said. "The difference between every rider and every machine in MotoGP every time is smaller and smaller. So last year we were not that bad, and this year we are not that good.

"But we are a little bit more close, also my feeling with the bike is a bit better, so my confidence increased. So it's like a circle, step by step you are closer to the top guys.

"Definitely yes, the bike is more competitive, because otherwise I cannot fight. But we still have to work in some places, because when I'm alone in the track, I can do different lines, more corner speed, I can be more competitive than when I'm in the group.

"In the race, I suffered a lot to follow Binder, and when I was alone, because Binder got away, I could do my lines, and I think I was one of the strongest riders in 1'39s in the last part of the race. But it was too late."

With 25-points from the opening three rounds, Espargaro has already scored more than half of his total points (42) during the whole of 2020 and is '100%' sure that a podium will come by the end of the season.

"Sincerely after the warm-up I was quite sure I was able to fight for it, but I have no grip because the track temperature was 20 degrees more than the warm up and qualifying, and I spin a lot," he said.

"Anyway, I'm happy overall about my performance, we are very fast, and to put the Aprilia in the top 6 in MotoGP is something important, but I think Jerez can be even more close.

"So step-by-step I think this year we will finish in the podium, 100%. We will not have to wait until next year."

Before Sunday's race a unique minute of silence was observed by both the MotoGP and F1 paddocks in memory of Espargaro's late team boss Fausto Gresini.

"I'm proud of what we are doing, and I believe he is watching it, but I feel very sorry, because it's my fifth season here and I would really love to see him, his face when I arrive in the garage after a race like this.

"Fausto believed a lot in my potential. So that I'm now fighting for the top with his project and he's not here, it makes me a little bit angry.

"But anyway, I'm sure that what we did for him today between MotoGP and F1 is just one more example of how important Fausto was."

Espargaro's rookie team-mate Lorenzo Savadori finished in 14th place, thus scoring his first MotoGP points.

"My first points in the MotoGP World Championship are certainly an important detail, but the experience I continue to build race after race is worth more than anything else," Savadori said.

"Our goal is still to reduce the gap behind the leaders, as well as behind my team-mate, and the results will come as a result.

"I lost a lot of ground in the early stages of the race today. My difficulties braking and cornering are accentuated with a full tank, whereas I was then able to maintain a pace similar to the group ahead of me."



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