After a run of 22 consecutive finishes stretching back to last year's Austrian GP, Moto2 title leader Remy Gardner made his first big mistake of the season by falling early in the COTA race.

On the podium in 11 of the previous 14 races this season, the Australian slipped off at low speed while chasing Red Bull Ajo team-mate and race leader Raul Fernandez.

The small mistake had big consequences in terms of the world championship, with Fernandez closing from 34 to just 9-points behind the Australian with three rounds remaining.

“I was pushing really hard, and we had a good pace, but this is racing and sometimes we make mistakes," said Gardner. "The important thing is that we are still leaders of the World Championship and there are still three rounds to go.

"Of course, I will fight and give my all until the end. We have to maintain a positive mentality and try not to make any more mistakes for the remainder of the season."

Rookie star Fernandez has suffered two DNFs this season, plus surgery for a right-hand injury, but made up for it by winning seven races, already equalling the rookie record of Marc Marquez.

The young Spaniard, who will move with Gardner to the Tech3 KTM MotoGP team next year, also has momentum on his side courtesy of victories in the last three races.

Crucially, Fernandez's past wins include Portimao and Misano, tracks that Moto2 will now return to for the next two rounds, followed by a Valencia finale.

“I'm speechless. It was a perfect weekend: We led every session, we dominated the race from start to finish and also set the fastest lap," Fernandez said at COTA. "We remain focused on our work. I want to thank the team because we are doing things well despite any adversity."

With best of the rest Marco Bezzecchi now 65-points from Gardner and only 75 left on the table, the intermediate class faces its first team-mate title showdown since the Olivier Jacque vs Shinya Nakano Tech3 battle for the 250cc world championship.

“It was an incredible weekend for Raul. Getting such a high number of poles and victories in his rookie season was something we couldn't have imagined at the beginning of the year," team manager Aji Ajo said in COTA.

"However, we have conflicting feelings. Remy had a good pace throughout the round, but unfortunately crashed out. That was his first mistake in 2021 and we have to accept that these things can happen.

"Now we have to stay focused for this championship battle between our two riders that awaits us between now and the end of the campaign."

While Gardner is seeking to join father Wayne as a grand prix world champion, Fernandez has the chance to become the first intermediate class rookie to win the four-stroke Moto2 title. The last 250cc rookie to win the title was Dani Pedrosa in 2004.

The Jacque vs Nakano showdown in 2000 was only settled by a photo-finish overtake, from Jacque, at the end of the Phillip Island season finale.