Dani Pedrosa's first MotoGP since 2018 saw the retired 54-time grand prix winner involved in a fiery race-stopping accident in Styria.

Holding a strong twelfth in the early stages of his KTM debut, the test rider slid from his RC16 on the exit of the Turn 3 hairpin.

Following riders managed to weave around the Spaniard and his fallen machine until an unsighted Lorenzo Savadori, in 21st place, slammed head-on into the orange bike.

Pedrosa escaped unhurt but Savadori fractured his right ankle, while a big fire erupted due to a damaged fuel tank.

"It was a rough start in the first race and I don't know why I had this crash," said Pedrosa. "Maybe I touched the inside line, or maybe the tyre was still too cold on the right side, because I was using the hard compound.

"I just tried to pick up the bike out of the turn and the bike didn’t pick up and I stayed on the floor. I spun in the middle of the track.

"Unfortunately, Savadori hit my bike and he’s hurt, so I’m sorry for him. But I was very lucky. I don’t think I had this situation [falling directly in front of other riders] before in my career, so it was a little bit of a shock seeing all the bikes passing by, one side and the other."

Savadori will undergo surgery and miss next weekend's second Red Bull Ring event, but Pedrosa was able to make the restart on his spare bike.

"I didn’t have any doubt of not going out again, but we didn’t know if they could change the spare bike from wet to dry in time," Pedrosa explained. "But the mess meant they needed to clean the track.

"But we also had some issues during the weekend with one bike always working better, one engine was working one way and the second engine was working differently because we had the problem on Friday with one engine. So my preferred bike was the one I crashed with.

"I said to myself, 'okay, I go to the race but I will take it easy in the beginning and then see how it goes'. So, you can imagine, I wasn’t really, really focused or concentrated in the beginning. I even forgot to put the start device!

"So I didn't start well. In the first couple of laps I lost positions but I wasn’t too concerned about that in that moment."

After spending the early stages in 15th place, Pedrosa began to pick-up positions in the middle stages of the 27 laps.

"In the middle of the race, I got some stable pace. Comparing practice to race was a whole different thing on the tyres. It was really difficult to stay on the bike, so it was easy to crash, I felt. So, I just kept my pace.

"I was battling with a few riders. One crash here, one penalty there, mistakes… I was recovering some positions and at the end I was catching the group in front, led by the Marquez brothers and Bagnaia [for eighth].

"I don't know if I could pass them if I caught finally, but I was closing on them. So, my pace on the race was good."

The fastest KTM in several sessions this weekend, Pedrosa finished 6.5s behind Brad Binder (fourth) and ahead of the Tech3 machines. Miguel Oliveira, riding with a hand injury, retired with a front tyre issue.

"I enjoyed it and I’m super satisfied with how it went all weekend," Pedrosa said. "It was weird for me, of course, to race again. But I felt very well welcomed from the paddock and from also many fans on social media and in the grandstands. It was really nice to be back with that feeling and that welcome.

"Looking to the racing aspect, I think it is clear what everybody already knows. You must qualify in front, and then you have 50% more chances in the race. Personally, I’m not a big fan of that because I like to prepare the bike more for the race and not work only on quick lap times. But, it is what it is.

"I even think if I would have gone into Q2 directly, maybe I would be one row or two rows more in front. It could be even better. But I'm not complaining!"

The 35-year-old agreed to the wild-card to understand more for his testing duties, such as how the bike behaves when battling with other machines, plus use of the holeshot and ride-height devices.

"We learned more or less what we expect, plus some surprises. I think it was a positive thing for KTM. I want to thank KTM and my test team for the effort."

It's not clear if or when Pedrosa will race again this season, but there are two more KTM wild-cards potentially available.

Meanwhile, during final practice on Saturday, the #26 rolled back the years when he found himself riding with former rival Valentino Rossi.

The nine-time world champion announced on Thursday that he will retire at the end of this season, but Pedrosa now appreciates more than ever the effort the Italian has made in racing on until the age of 42.

"It was a good time when I followed him and after he followed me, like remembering a little bit old times!" Pedrosa said. "I’m 35 now. He’s older than me, but I know already how hard it is to ride when you are getting older.

"When you are young and they tell you this, you say, 'Yes, yes…' but you don’t think it’s so different. But when you experience it in your own skin, you realise it’s quite different.

"So I value more what he has done in this last period, even if now his results aren’t like before. I appreciate his effort because it’s always more difficult the older you get. "