Lewis Hamilton believes Formula One's popularity in the United States is "booming" ahead of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on Sunday.

Miami's first Grand Prix will take place later this week after the Miami International Autodrome agreed a 10-year contract to stage the race, meaning the United States will host two events in the 2022 season, with Austin, Texas hosting the United States Grand Prix in October, while a Las Vegas Grand Prix will be introduced next year.

Hamilton, who holds the record for most wins in Austin (six), has struggled at the outset of the new campaign, sitting seventh in the driver's standings after finishing a disappointing 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last time out.

In an interview with ABC'S Good Morning America, the seven-time drivers' champion said he was excited to be participating in the USA, highlighting the role of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' documentary series in boosting the sport's stateside popularity.

"It's a bit nerve-racking because I think it's going to be a huge event for us," he said. "We obviously had the race in Austin, Texas, which has always been amazing. The first race I had out here was Indianapolis in 2007.

"But now, with Netflix's Drive to Survive series growing, we have two Grands Prix in the States and we have another one in Las Vegas next year, it's going to be huge.

"I've been coming out here for a long time, but never understood why people weren't into Formula One.

"Everyone knew NASCAR, and obviously there are such huge sporting fans out here and this Netflix show, particularly through the pandemic, has just brought massive awareness to the sport, and now it's booming."

Meanwhile, the 37-year-old used his appearance on the show to highlight the launch of his Mission 44 Foundation, which aims to "support, champion and empower young people from underrepresented groups to succeed through narrowing opportunity gaps across society."

Hamilton said his experience of working in Formula One, an industry in which ethnic minority groups remain severely underrepresented, motivated the foundation's mission.

"It's been generally quite a lonely journey. It's been me and my family. We're the only black family [in the sport]," he added.

"I've been racing 29 years. I'm 37 now, but I've been professional for 16 years. I've most often been the only person of colour in the room and when I asked the question [why], there was no great feedback or answer to that.

"So we've now started Mission 44, which I've funded myself, to try and create more representation and support and empowerment for these young, underserved groups."

Despite out-driving his famous Mercedes team-mate early in the season, George Russell has nothing but praise for seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton, 37, got off to a solid start in Bahrain after qualifying fifth and sneaking onto the podium when both Red Bull cars were retired, but his fourth-placed finish in Australia is sandwiched by crossing the line 10th in Saudi Arabia and a disappointing 13th in Imola.

Meanwhile, Russell has finished no worse than fifth in any race, despite having a best starting position of sixth, both in Australia and Saudi Arabia.

It means Russell occupies fourth position in the driver standings, just 10 points away from Max Verstappen in second, while Hamilton is back in seventh.

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Russell said he has no doubts about the "inspiring" Hamilton's quality, and his likelihood of returning to form.

"Lewis has clearly got the pace," he said. "He's incredibly fast, and he's showed that so far this year, but it's just been tricky for us as a team to get it done when the time is needed.

"When things have been more stable, Lewis has still been massively fast.

"I know there was a bit of a blip last weekend, but I have no doubt he's going to come back, and the way he's pushing the team and motivating the team is truly inspiring.

"We all want more. He wants more. Nobody is happy with the position we're in currently."

While Russell acknowledged that some of the team's problems have been out of the drivers' hands, he said they are issues he is also having to combat, and that his time at Williams has prepared him to make the most out of difficult situations.

"We are equally struggling," he said. "When the car is so far out of bed and it's not in the right window, it doesn't really feel like a proper racing car to drive.

"Perhaps with my struggles at Williams, with very difficult cars, maybe that's helped in some small regard.

"But Lewis will come back stronger, I have no doubt. He's definitely going to be pushing me all the way.

"I'm not getting comfortable in this position because I know what he's capable of."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff commended his young star, and stressed his team is determined to provide their drivers with cars they can compete with.

"I'm very impressed with how [Russell has] settled in," he said. "How professionally and analytically he is helps us to assess the situation.

"The combination [of Russell and Hamilton], that's one of the very few highlights I have at the moment on our journey – the two of them work together with no friction. On the contrary, it is very, very productive and positive for the team and I couldn't be happier with the driver line-up.

"We have two of maybe the three best drivers, and they deserve a car and a power unit that makes them fight in the front rather than being lapped. That's not what any of them deserves."

Francesco Bagnaia was physically ailing during his Grand Prix of Spain victory but believes he is now in the "best shape" on Ducati's 2022 bike.

Bagnaia finished last season with four wins in six races – his first victories in MotoGP – only to make a slow start to the new campaign.

The Ducati man had not reached the podium this year heading into Sunday's race at Jerez, but pole position in qualifying set him up to end that run.

Indeed, Bagnaia led from start to finish, holding off defending champion and season leader Fabio Quartararo.

It was not as comfortable a ride as it may have seemed, however, as Bagnaia revealed afterwards he is still dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in a qualifying crash in Portugal.

"I was very worried about the race because this morning in the warm-up I was without painkillers, and I was struggling," he said

"But then Clinica Mobile always has something good to give to you, and that helped me.

"Just the last part of the race was difficult because all the braking is in the right apart from the last corner. Turn 6 was very difficult to stop the bike because it was like someone was putting pressure on my [shoulder], and it was painful."

But having returned to winning ways, Bagnaia heads into the rest of the season on a high.

"For sure we are back in best shape, not physically but in terms of my riding," he added. "I want to get home and recover because I think that today we have finally found what we were missing."

Francesco Bagnaia converted pole position at the Grand Prix of Spain for his first victory of 2022 ahead of MotoGP defending champion and season leader Fabio Quartararo.

After finishing the previous campaign with four wins in six races – his first victories in the top category – Bagnaia had endured a slow start this year, failing to even reach the podium prior to this weekend.

But a record lap in qualifying put the Ducati man on pole in Jerez, and he led from start to finish to kickstart his season.

Quartararo, starting in second, was Bagnaia's closest challenger, making a strong start and applying intense pressure for the first half of the race.

But Bagnaia was then able to open up a gap and enjoy a slightly more comfortable ride for his first win at this event, and fifth podium in his past seven entries across all categories.

Quartararo could at least be comforted by his now seven-point lead in the championship on a tough day for Alex Rins, who had been level at the summit but had to settle for 19th.

With Aleix Espargaro – now Quartararo's nearest challenger – completing the podium, the top three ended as they began, although the battle for third was a thriller.

Both Jack Miller and Marc Marquez, chasing his 100th MotoGP podium, got the jump on Espargaro early on, seemingly setting up a direct battle between the pair.

Marquez eventually got past Miller with five laps remaining following a stunning move at Turn 5, which he made stick despite the pace of the Ducati.

But that manoeuvre opened the door for Espargaro, running in fifth, to come back at them, and he profited when Marquez went wide at Turn 13 and required an incredible save to stay on his bike, catching himself with his left elbow.

Espargaro was able to build a bigger gap, although Marquez at least passed Miller again for fourth, delivering the drama that was missing at the front of the race.

Francesco Bagnaia expressed his delight after claiming pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix with an all-time record lap at Jerez on Saturday.

Bagnaia set the new mark on the Circuito de Jerez with his 1:36.170 lap in Q2 to secure a first pole of the 2022 MotoGP season ahead of reigning champion Fabio Quartararo.

Quartararo was denied a fifth straight pole in as many premier-class appearances at the venue by the brilliance of Bagnaia, who returned in style following a crash at the Portuguese Grand Prix last week.

Speaking after the race, a thrilled Bagnaia said: "I'm really happy. We did a great job. 

"I was missing this feeling to be really fast and competitive. Thanks to all the guys in my team."

World champion Quartararo, who won in Portugal to take the lead in the overall standings, finished almost half a second behind Bagnaia and could only applaud the efforts of the Ducati rider.

"In qualifying, he was incredible: he was half a second faster than everyone else, so I think he managed to put in a really good lap," he said of Bagnaia after the race to reporters.

However, Quartararo remains confident heading into the race on Sunday after securing what he claims to be a vital second position on the grid.

"I think it will be super important for Sunday. It's a great position to start from," he explained.

"For us, the pace in FP4 was great. I think we can have a good race and the most important thing is tomorrow. I feel very confident."

Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro moved ahead of Bagnaia's team-mate Jack Miller to take third, while six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez settled for fifth.

The FIA is continuing to evaluate plans to double the number of Formula One sprint events to six next year.

Silverstone staged the inaugural sprint race last year and the first of three on the 2022 calendar was staged at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last weekend.

All 10 F1 teams are if favour of having six sprint events on the 2023 schedule.

F1's governing body is still considering whether to approve such an increase.

An FIA statement said: "With the first of three sprint events of the 2022 season popular with fans and stakeholders last weekend at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Formula One and the teams were supportive of an extension to six sprint events for the 2023 season, running with the same format as in 2022.

"While supporting the principle of an increased number of sprint events, the FIA is still evaluating the impact of this proposal on its trackside operations and personnel, and will provide its feedback to the commission."

Max Verstappen won the sprint at Imola to take pole position and duly converted that into a race victory on Sunday.

Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko could not help but add insult to injury following the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday, suggesting Lewis Hamilton should have retired at the end of last season.

The seven-time Formula One world champion finished out of the points in 13th position at Imola and to compound the misery, was lapped by rival Max Verstappen, who went on to win the race in a one-two for Red Bull.

Mercedes have struggled to come to grips with porpoising as a result of new regulations this season, but Hamilton's form is in stark contrast to that of team-mate George Russell, who sits 21 points ahead in the driver's standings and finished fourth on Sunday.

When asked how Hamilton might be feeling after Imola, Marko could not resist.

"I mean, he was lapped by us, so I don't know," Marko told Sky Sports F1. "Maybe he is thinking he should have stopped last year,"

Verstappen played down the gravity of Hamilton being lapped, however, saying it's a natural consequence of the disparity in performance between the Red Bull and Mercedes packages.

"They've been slow all year so for me it's not really anything exciting, it just happens," he said.

Verstappen's win at Imola was an assured drive, the Dutchman untroubled from pole to finish. With Carlos Sainz out on the opening lap, Red Bull were able to put second-placed Sergio Perez on a different strategy to force Ferrari's hand with championship leader Charles Leclerc.

The reigning world champion moved to second place in the driver's standings on 59 points, 27 points behind Leclerc, who recovered from a spin on lap 53 to finish sixth.

Marko asserted the one-two was a critical result from the standpoints of team morale and the championship, following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia.

"It was very important after our problems in Bahrain and Australia from the engine side…another one-two, the last one was 2016 in Malaysia," Marko said.

"It was about time, for the morale and everything it's more than important. It showed that we are competitive, we just have to get the package together and then we are there.

"There are so many races coming, the important thing is that we have such a strong package, so the championship will be very exciting but hopefully it doesn't go the last race like last year."

Charles Leclerc acknowledged he was "too greedy and paid the price" as he span out from third and finished sixth at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

Despite qualifying second behind Max Verstappen following Saturday's sprint race, Leclerc slid down to fourth on the opening lap as Sergio Perez and Lando Norris found a way past him. 

Although he was able to overtake Norris, Perez's exemplary defence kept him at bay and he was unable to get close enough when the track was finally deemed dry enough for DRS to be enabled. 

With the front two out of reach, Leclerc opted to switch to soft tyres and chase the fastest lap to deny Verstappen the additional point. 

However, an error at the Variante Alta saw him hit the barriers and forced him to pit again. 

Leclerc was ninth when he returned to the track but managed to climb back up to sixth, meaning his championship lead was cut from 45 points to 27. 

"It's a big shame. Whatever happened before the spin, these are details and it's part of racing. The spin shouldn't have happened today," Leclerc said on Sky Sports. 

"P3 was the best I could do. We didn't have the pace for much more and I was too greedy and paid the price for it and lost potential seven potential points compared to the third place I was in. It is a shame, it's seven points that will for sure be valuable at the end of the campaign, but this shouldn't happen again. 

"For sure, Red Bull seem to be more competitive than the first three races. We had the upper hand in Bahrain and Australia, then they had it here and in Jeddah. 

"It is very, very close and I think it will be that way for the rest of the season. It's a big mistake but the consequence considering the mistake could've been much bigger. It's only seven points today but it could cost more the next time, so I need to be careful." 

Ferrari got zero points through Carlos Sainz, who got stuck in the gravel following contact with Daniel Ricciardo at the first chicane on the opening lap. 

Sainz said: "It was very bad, definitely. A tough moment. 

"It's not at all the way I wanted to go out in front of the fans. Turn two can be bad, but there are always these tough moments in the life of the sportsman and you have to go through them. 

"As long as I keep working hard, the good times will come." 

Lewis Hamilton scotched any suggestion he might still challenge for the Formula One drivers' title after an Imola nightmare on Sunday. 

The seven-time champion placed 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and was lapped by race winner Max Verstappen, leaving him a distant seventh in the 2022 standings after four races. 

Hamilton's former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg questioned team principal Toto Wolff's assertion that it was the car, rather than the driver, that had been the dominant factor in the British star struggling. 

Given Hamilton's team-mate George Russell finished a creditable fourth, Rosberg believes Wolff chose his words carefully in an effort to gee up his lead driver. 

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hamilton said it had been "a weekend to forget, that's for sure". 

When asked about title prospects and the possibility of fighting his way back into contention, Hamilton said: "I am out of the championship, for sure. There's no question about that. But I will still keep working as hard as I can and try and somehow pull it back together somehow." 

Rosberg raced for Mercedes from 2010 to 2016, pipping Hamilton to the title in his final year with the team before driving off into retirement. 

Wolff described the Mercedes as "undriveable" as he spoke to Hamilton over team radio at the end of Sunday's race in Italy, saying it was not fit for a world champion. 

But Rosberg, also speaking to Sky Sports, believes that was a case of clever politics from the Mercedes team chief. 

"Here, Toto was playing the mental game which is very smart on his behalf again, taking the blame themselves and really trying to support Lewis mentally. Lifting him up and saying that it wasn't Lewis' doing, it's on us," Rosberg said. 

"It's very smart because it's not quite the truth and let's not forget that Russell is in P4 with that same car, so Lewis definitely had a big role to play in that poor result this weekend." 

Rosberg believes there was "more in that car" than Hamilton has been able to find. 

He added: "It's so important that Lewis keeps that motivation through the whole season, it's important for the team and it's quite easy for Lewis to lose it in these kinds of situations." 

Fabio Quartararo insisted that his first MotoGP win of the season will not impact any decision on his future after victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix on Sunday.

The defending champion had not won a race since the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last August, but eased to victory at the Algarve International Circuit, finishing more than five seconds ahead of second-placed Johann Zarco.

With previous championship leader Enea Bastianini crashing out in Portugal, Quartararo is now joint-top of the riders' championship standings along with Suzuki's Alex Rins, and was relieved to secure his first P1 of the year.

"It was quite a long time since I achieved the victory, I think it was in August at Silverstone," Quartararo said after the race.

"But also the tough times that I had this year. It was a short time, four races, but when you win the championship you always want to fight again for the championship."

The Yamaha rider has struggled in the early stages of this year, having finished second at the Indonesian Grand Prix, and no higher than seventh in any of the other three races this season.

"For me, it was tough to accept that I was happy to finish seventh in Austin [at the Grand Prix of the Americas]," he added, "because I improved a lot my race pace from the previous year [when finishing second], we have not made a massive improvement on the bike, we know what is going on.

"So, of course, it's tough for me to see the team applauding me for P7. In my mind, P7 is not good, but I was happy.

"But today to fight for the victory again was something special, something emotional because I have always said I will fight the same for P1, P5 or P10.

"And of course today it was much more fun, and that's why I got that emotional."

The 23-year-old has been rumoured to be unhappy with the pace of the bike at Yamaha, and while he believes his performance showed that the bike is "working", he did admit the speed is not ideal.

"I never the said the bike was not working," he added. "The bike is working in a way that when it's not working, you don't fight for this kind of position.

"It's true the bike is missing a lot of top speed, but in this track I was feeling not bad with the top speed because in the last corner I was exiting super fast."

Quartararo was asked if his victory will influence any decision he makes about his future at Yamaha beyond this season, replying simply: "No."

Max Verstappen felt Red Bull "were on it" at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and thoroughly deserved their one-two. 

Reigning Formula One champion Verstappen started on pole after winning Saturday's sprint race and he took maximum points at Imola by winning and setting the fastest lap. 

He cut Charles Leclerc's championship lead from 45 points to 27. The Ferrari driver span out from third when trying to take the bonus point from Verstappen and ended up finishing sixth. 

That opened the door for Lando Norris to finish third, with Sergio Perez making it a first one-two for Red Bull since Malaysia in 2016. 

"It's always tough to achieve something like that but already yesterday and the day before, we were on it and it was looking like a strong weekend," said Verstappen. 

"Today, you never know with the weather how competitive you are going to be, but I think we did very well and this one-two is very deserved. 

"The start was very important but afterwards, judging the conditions and when to swap to the slick tyres, because in the lead you have to always dictate the pace, and it's always a bit more difficult initially, but everything was well managed." 

Perez defended brilliantly to keep Leclerc at bay after getting past him on the opening lap, though he was lucky DRS was not enabled until after he took a trip across the grass and gave the Ferrari a chance to close the gap.

"It was really intense! The fight since halfway through the race we were fighting, then it was all under control but then they start chasing us again with the stop and it was the fight again to warm up the tyres," said Perez. 

"The most important thing today is to not make mistakes, because with these conditions it was so tricky out there. To get a one-two in these conditions, I think it is a great result for the team. We've been so unlucky at the start. It's been so difficult for us. 

"I am very pleased to see everyone in my team smiling today." 

Norris said: "It was an amazing race. An amazing weekend.  

"I'm happy, the team deserves it. From where we were in race one to now scoring a podium, top job by the team. It's just hard work [from the team]. A lot of time of effort back in the factory and here at Imola. 

"It was a mixture of tricky conditions, but we've been able to capitalise on that as well. But I love these conditions, so I always do quite well. Just a mixture of hard work and a great weekend and it all pays off." 

Lewis Hamilton received an apology from Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after finishing a sorry 13th in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.

Seven-time Formula One king Hamilton was told by Wolff his car had been "undriveable", and "not worthy for a world champion".

Wolff also said it had been "a terrible race" for the team. That was despite George Russell faring rather better than team-mate Hamilton, coming home in fourth position to collect points.

Hamilton wound up empty-handed and sits seventh in the championship with 28 points from the first four races of the season, already 21 points behind Russell and 58 adrift of leader Charles Leclerc.

To boot on Sunday, there was the embarrassment of Hamilton being lapped by Max Verstappen on lap 40, a sign of the times in their rivalry.

In an exchange over team radio at the end of the race, Silver Arrows team principal Wolff told Hamilton: "Sorry for what you have needed to drive today.

"I know this is undriveable and not what we deserve to score as a result. So we will move from there, but this was a terrible race."

Hamilton replied: "Yeah, no worries, Toto. Let's keep working hard."

Mercedes face a major challenge to match the pace of the Ferrari and Red Bull cars this season, with the next race a fortnight away in Miami.

"We will come out of this," Wolff said.

Speaking later to Sky Sports, Wolff said it had been a "really bad" result for Hamilton.

"He got squeezed by the Alpine, the other two cars undercut and there's just no overtaking when you're in a DRS train," Wolff said.

"We saw from George what the car can do in free air, but we are not good enough for a world champion, not worthy for a world champion. We just need to fix the car.

"I think we are going to look at things for Miami. I think we can make a step in the understanding of the car. It's another day, we just really need to understand more and bring development to the car which will fix the bouncing."

Max Verstappen surged to victory in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and gained ground on Charles Leclerc, who had a costly late spin. 

Having given up on catching race leader Verstappen, Leclerc pitted from third for soft tyres in a bid to take the extra point for the fastest lap away from the Dutchman. 

However, the Ferrari driver lost control at the Variante Alta and sustained damage that forced him to pit again – enabling Lando Norris to take third. 

Leclerc dropped to ninth but recovered to sixth as his championship lead was cut by 18 points, with Sergio Perez making it a Red Bull one-two. 

Verstappen started on pole following his success in Saturday's sprint race and he never surrendered that position, though Leclerc slid down from second to fourth on a wet opening lap. 

The safety car was deployed after Carlos Sainz span out following contact with Daniel Ricciardo, who was nudged from behind by Valtteri Bottas at the Variante Tamburello. 

Leclerc got past Lando Norris on lap eight but was already six seconds adrift of Verstappen, with the Dutchman only building on his lead after changing for slick tyres on lap 20. 

Perez, who quickly regained second after losing out to Leclerc in the pits, produced some excellent defence to keep the Ferrari at bay despite a trip across the grass before DRS was belatedly enabled just after the halfway point. 

Leclerc set the fastest lap but ended up losing track position when he span into the barriers on lap 53, with Verstappen taking the extra point after changing to soft tyres. 

Fabio Quartararo won a MotoGP race for the first time this season, sending him top of the championship after a routine victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix, with Johann Zarco in second and Aleix Espargaro third.

Quartararo won the last Portuguese Grand Prix in 2021, although failed to finish in the top 10 in his other two MotoGP appearances at the Algarve International Circuit (14th in 2020 Portuguese GP and did not finish at the 2021 Algarve GP).

However, despite winning last year's championship, the Frenchman's previous race win was at the British Grand Prix in August.

Quartararo eased past Joan Mir early in Sunday's race in Portimao, though, and never looked back as he cruised to the win, while all the drama happened behind him.

Previous championship leader Enea Bastianini crashed out on lap 10, appearing to clip the seam of the curb at turn eight before sliding off the track while in 10th place.

Mir was left fighting for second place and was eventually overtaken by a determined Zarco, but things were to get worse for the Spaniard as Jack Miller, while attempting to pass on the inside, slid his bike and took both of them out of the race at the start of lap 16.

Mir has now gone six races in a row without a podium, which was already his worst run in MotoGP since his first 20 races in the top category between 2019 and 2020.

It was a performance to remember from Alex Rins, though, as he took his Suzuki from 23rd all the way up to fourth, making up a remarkable 13 places on the opening lap alone.

Elsewhere, there was some good old-fashioned racing between the Marquez brothers near the end of the race, with Marc ultimately getting the better of Alex to take sixth place.

TOP 10

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha)
2. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +5.409
3. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) +6.068
4. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) +9.633
5. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +13.573
6. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +16.163
7. Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) +16.183
8. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo) +16.511
9. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +16.769
10. Maverick Vinales (Aprilia Racing) +18.063

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Riders

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 69
2. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) 69
3. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) 66
4. Enea Bastianini (Gresini) 61
5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) 51

Teams

1. Suzuki Ecstar 115
2. Aprilia Racing 91
3. Monster Energy Yamaha 86
4. Red Bull KTM 81
5. Pramac Racing 79

Aleix Espargaro conceded he was fearful heading into the final session of Saturday's qualifying ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix.

A crash-laden Q1 at Portimao saw Remy Gardner and Francesco Bagnaia, who has finished on the podium in his last two races at the Algarve International Circuit, crash, with the latter failing to set a time.

Johann Zarco produced a stunning lap to come out on top in Q2 to take pole and spare Ducati's blushes, finishing ahead of Joan Mir and Espargaro, who across four races this season has collected 50 points, more than in two of his previous five whole seasons with Aprilia (44 points in 2018 and 42 in 2020).

Reigning champion Fabio Quartararo – the winner at Portimao last year – also struggled in the wet, though the Yamaha driver overcame a tricky moment to clinch fifth on the grid, while Marc Marquez, chasing his 100th MotoGP podium this weekend, was left to rue a yellow flag, having initially set the fastest lap.

After negotiating the difficult conditions, a relieved Espargaro was thrilled with his efforts.

He said: "I hate to say it – I was scared! Today I was scared, the wet patches were very slippery.

"When you are sitting in the garage and see many crashes, and all the crashes have been huge. You have to be very focused but you cannot be.

"I tried to feel perfectly the whole track to see where I could push in the last five minutes. I am very happy, this is like a victory because I hate these conditions, so I'm super happy."

Having recorded a time of 1:42.003, Zarco, too, acknowledged the state of the track made assessing where and when to push hard difficult.

"Pretty, pretty happy. I did not expect it to be so good. It was so tricky," the Frenchman said.

"I was pretty happy to go straight through Q2. I couldn't analyse the Q1 well. The best strategy was to stay on track, do the full 15 minutes with the same tyre to get confidence with the track, it worked pretty well for me."

Mir, meanwhile, revelled in taking a place on the front row for just the second time in his MotoGP career.

"In normal conditions we always struggle to make one lap but in tough conditions we can give a little but more," the Suzuki Ecstar rider said.  

"My feeling is improving. We are following good steps, we are improving and it looks like when we make a good step [forward], we don't go back. So it's important. Let's see if we can go faster tomorrow, but it will be a hard race."

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