A strong start to the French MotoGP saw Pol Espargaro tucked in behind team-mate Marc Marquez in fifth place as they entered the Chemin Aux Boeufs chicane on the opening lap at Le Mans.

But Espargaro then had a big moment on the exit, forcing him to shut the gas and be passed by Takaaki Nakagami and Valentino Rossi.

Having regained control, Espargaro accelerated in a gentle diagonal back across to the racing line on the outside of the track, where he then tried to re-pass Rossi on the brakes into the following S Bleus right-hander.

But the other Petronas Yamaha of Franco Morbidelli, just behind, attempted to pass Espargaro at the same time, forcing Morbidelli to go even tighter to the inside.

With Rossi successfully resisting Espargaro, it was already looking tight between the pair when Morbidelli ran out of room on the kerb and clipped the back of the Repsol Honda, nudging Espargaro further into Rossi.

While Morbidelli speared off into the gravel, where he fell, Espargaro and Rossi lost 4-5 places as they ran wide to the edge of track, finishing the first lap in 11th and 13th.

No penalties were awarded for the incident.

"The problem was that Morbidelli came in too hot and just did a mistake on the brakes and took me out," Espargaro said. "Outside I had Valentino, and I took out Valentino. I found Valentino here in the paddock, we talked and he agreed with me.

"It’s clear that Franco braked too late and he got contact with me and then I got contact with Valentino. This is something that can happen in racing. That’s why I didn’t complain about it because it’s a racing incident. But the one who started the action in this case was Morbidelli braking too late."

Morbidelli didn't feel it was quite as clear cut, explaining that a rider recovering from a big moment always creates uncertainty and confusion for those behind.

"I think the blame has to be shared because when I saw that Pol had a moment, I thought immediately that he was out. So, I went to overtake him because I had much more speed and went on the inside," Morbidelli said.

"After the moment I thought he would’ve taken the next corner a bit more careful. Instead, he was really good and aggressive to try to try to immediately re-attack Vale.

"I wasn’t expecting that and I hit him on the rear and ended up outside the track. I couldn’t control the bike. That’s the incident according to me."

Rossi was the final rider caught up in the three-way chain reaction.

"Pol had a big moment, a big slide, and I overtake him," said the Italian. "After he tried to come back inside me at T11 and I touched with Pol, but Franco also arrived and Pol put me outside the track. From P7 I go to P13 and lost a lot of time."

Espargaro went on to finish eighth, Rossi eleventh and Morbidelli – after initially appearing injured and out of the race – returned to finish 16th.

"My knee isn’t in the best shape at the moment and it twisted again when I went to put my weight on it," said Morbidelli, who had damaged ligaments in a training accident, then hurt the left knee again during a bike swap practice on Saturday.

"When I saw it was raining I decided to return to the pitbox, so thank you to the team for helping me to push the bike back. I restarted the race with the hope of picking up some points, but it was not possible."