Yet neither rider even made it past Qualifying 1 on Saturday, Marquez falling twice in the space of five minutes on his way to 14th, with Espargaro just behind and unsure if he can even finish the race.

Just a month earlier Espargaro had been fastest of all during official testing at the same track, when all four Hondas had also been among the very best for race pace. He then led for 17 laps in Qatar on his way to third in the season-opener.

So what has gone so badly wrong?

For Espargaro the answer is clear; it's the modified rear tyre casing, last used at Buriram 2018, brought to the race weekend following blistering issues due to overheating at the test.

"Honda designed a new bike that fits perfectly with the current [2022] tyres. Then there was some problem during the test and to improve these problems Michelin brought four-year-old tyre [technology]," Espargaro said.

"So what we face is we have a bike, the best bike on the grid I would say with the correct tyres, but now it's fitted with four-year-old tyres that this bike isn’t made for."

Such a fundamental change has shuffled the pack in terms of performance this weekend.

"We saw Ducati struggling massively at the test here, they were super slow, especially on rhythm. Now they are flying," Espargaro said.

"We are especially pissed off because we were very fast. We think it’s unfair in some ways. Because we were working so much during the pre-season, making an amazing bike. Honda built an amazing bike and we do not deserve these results."

 


 


 

Marquez confirmed that "all Hondas have had unexpected problems since FP1.

"I say unexpected problems because at the test we all rode very well: me, Pol, Taka, my brother. Since we arrived here we start to struggle a lot with the rear and we push a lot with the front."

But the #93 didn't lay all the blame at Michelin's door, highlighting that it's the same situation for everyone.

"I don’t feel good like in Qatar but the others have the same tyre, so it's the same for everyone," he said. "We need to understand the situation to take profit from these tyres. Quartararo did the same time today as in the test so the performance [from the modified tyres] is there."

Typically, rather than accept the difficulties, Marquez pushed his machine beyond the limits in a desperate attempt to break out of Qualifying 1. The end result was two lowside accidents.

"In QP1, I did not feel ready, but I tried," he said. "There was no option to be in QP2. The second crash was something that I could avoid but I was 'burning' too much, when I went wide I knew it was my last chance. I tried to stay inside anyway, touched the dirty part of the track and lost the front.

"The second crash I understand, the first crash I don’t understand."

Marquez was later promoted from 15th to 14th due to a penalty for Franco Morbidelli, but "I'd prefer to start in 15th because it’s a clean place on the grid, but today was not our day and tomorrow we hope for a different feeling for the race."

The lowly grid position means the eight-time world champion has to go on the attack from the start of Sunday's race, yet at the same time try and manage the front tyre which is now being 'pushed' by the stiffer rear casing.

"I’m confident with my tyre management, but tomorrow I can’t [wait]. I need to attack in the beginning. For that reason we will put a soft rear, attack and let's see at the end," Marquez said.

"Maybe I will try the medium again in the warm-up but I don’t have the confidence with that tyre because I don’t have grip. As a minimum [with the soft] we will have half a race of good grip. We will see.

"I need to take a risk just to finish in the top ten," he said.

If that's sounds that a fairly dire situation, spare a thought for Espargaro, who isn't even sure he can make the front tyre last a race distance.

"The rear is not working enough, it’s not making the bike turn. So we are asking so much of the front tyre, we are generating a huge temperature, we destroy the front tyre, it’s a problem that comes from the rear," Espargaro said.

"[At the test] we started to have small blisters after a race distance. I agreed it was a problem at the test, I’m not saying everything was beautiful. But we could do a race distance.

"It’s like Michelin have tried to improve the situation [by bringing the 2018 tyre casing] but for us it’s much worse. Now we have a huge problem with the front tyre which maybe we can’t finish the race with.

"If they had brought these tyres to the test, for sure they would change the front for this race, because we’re having huge problems with it.

"Some get more benefit than others. We showed an amazing performance in the other places we’ve been with the new Honda. And you have seen the result of today. All the Hondas out of Q2 and two crashes for Marc on the front.

"I’m not a Michelin technician. I’m not a guy that tells them what they need to do. But if you bring a four-year-old tyre, it’s something that doesn’t match with the current situation.

"The [blistering] problem needed to be solved in a different way."

Compounding Espargaro's concerns is that riding in a group during the race may well make his front tyre issues even worse.

"We’re already having huge problems with the front when we were riding alone. Tomorrow we are back on the grid so we are going to have a lot of guys ahead and a lot of temperature, especially in the front.

"The problems we have are going to increase tomorrow. That’s why we’re so worried about it. It’s critical."

But maybe the unpredictable Mandalika weather will come to their rescue.

"I would prefer wet, because starting from 14th it’s a gamble," said Marquez.

"But for the show I know a dry race would be better. I believe we can do a good race either way and I always believe in me. I believed in me today but I was not ready. Tomorrow I will keep believing..."

Younger brother Alex qualified 19th with LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami, who had set arguably the best race simulation at the test, 24th and last.

"The biggest problem is no grip," Nakagami said. "We are struggling a lot. During the test we were quite competitive and I was happy about the feeling on the bike and the feeling of the tyre and race pace, but everything has changed.

"Also today, the grip levels for me was a little bit worse than yesterday, so it's strange that session by session, I lose confidence, I lose grip. Honestly, qualifying was terrible for me, I had no grip. Even when I put new tyres they were spinning everywhere and the bike had a lot of pumping. And then at some point I lost the front, so it was so difficult to make a lap time."