Cal Crutchlow admits it was something of a shock to be thrown back into the cauldron of MotoGP competition at the Red Bull Ring on Friday, after five months on the sidelines.

Signing on a Yamaha's new test rider after retiring at the end of last season, Crutchlow's hasn't ridden an M1 in five months due to Covid restrictions in Japan.

But the Englishman will now take part in three races as a stand-in for the injured Franco Morbidelli at Petronas Yamaha, starting with the Austrian double header and ending with Crutchlow's home British Grand Prix.

Having joked yesterday that he might stall in pitlane due, Crutchlow instead had a moment leaving the garage!

"First thing I did today, I let the clutch out but couldn't turn enough and when the lock was on my fingers hit the ride-height adjuster! The bike was nearly stalling and I was nearly falling off it, so I just let go of the handlebar and the bike took off," he said.

"You can imagine it wasn’t the easiest first few laps. The best thing is that you think you’re going fast, but the reality is I might as well have had an orange bib on like a novice!

"I was behind Jack [Miller] for the first two laps and I was staying with him; I was like 'this is brilliant'. Two-three laps later I ran a little wide and they went away.

"But I felt like I was flying. The bike was shaking, wheeling, and it felt like I was going well. But my lap timer wasn't working and in reality I was five seconds off the lap record or something! But that’s the way it feels – it feels like you’re going super-fast when the reality is you’re not."

"After five months off, everything feels alien, even sitting in this chair in my leathers feels alien let alone riding the bike. Handlebar positions, brake positions, everything just takes time to understand.

"I tried to explain it to someone earlier. Imagine the top marathon runners in the world, running in the best races in the world and then suddenly saying 'I’m not going to run for five months', but their first run back is running with (Eliud) Kipchoge. That’s what it’s like. I’m riding against the best guys in the world."

Crutchlow finished the dry morning session 23rd and last on the A-spec Yamaha, but was a respectable 2.285s from fastest man and former LCR Honda team-mate Takaaki Nakagami. He then improved to 20th place (+2.6s) on a wet but drying track in the afternoon session.

"It was always going to be a big ask when the other test riders have probably done 25 days this year and I’ve done 7 maximum. So it’s difficult to come back in, but I’m confident we can improve," Crutchlow said.

"I found my mind going back into a racers feeling, which is funny because I completely changed my mind into that of a test rider, so I came into the weekend and didn’t care where I finished. I was like 'if I get lapped, I get lapped'.

"There’s no pressure. I just do my job, enjoy riding, give them information and get a bit of bike feeling and motorcycle fitness back, so I can go and test after these three races.

"But I was in the garage thinking, 'you can really improve there, can go a lot faster here, I should be on this lap time'. It’s funny how it suddenly comes back, the feeling of wanting to compete as such.

"It’s funny how I slipped back into that. But the only competition I’ll be competing against is myself, I can tell you that!"

Crutchlow first priority is to get a better feeling on the 2019-based machine, one of the slowest bikes on the grid for top speed.

"I’ve ridden the 2019, 2020 and 2021 bike and the plan was to ride the 2022 bike in Japan in August, but obviously that’s been cancelled. The difference between the bikes… I can’t tell anything at the moment.

"All I’m doing at the moment is riding the bike and trying to get some sort of feeling. The second session in the wet today didn’t help me that’s for sure. I would have preferred it dry to make some improvements with my riding, because at the end of the day that’s the main problem I have.

"The bike doesn’t feel fantastic because it's not the way I had the bike in the test; wheelbase stuff like that, but we have time to change that over these next three races."

Team-mate Valentino Rossi was 16th fastest and 0.7s ahead of Crutchlow.

KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa, also returning to MotoGP action this weekend, was eleventh fastest.