The Aprilia rider crossed the line just 2.5s from Ducati race winner Francesco Bagnaiadespite losing over 11-seconds when he was forced off track by the impact from Quartararo’s bike.
The lap 5 incident, which Quartararo called a ‘stupid mistake’ and was later penalisedsaw the reigning champion fumble a pass on Espargaro for second place, losing the front of his Yamaha and side-swiping the RS-GP.
Espargaro went on to set the fastest lap of the race during his charge through the field, finishing directly behind team-mate Maverick Vinales and a place on the podium. Quartararo meanwhile suffered a second accident and retired for the first time this season.
All of which meant Espargaro has closed to within 21-points of Quartararo, a much bigger gain than he could have expected without the clash, but at the cost of what could well have been his and Aprilia’s second MotoGP victory.
“I think today I was able to win and Fabio finish second [without the incident]. This would be a five-point gain. Instead, I recovered 13 points,” Espargaro said. “So if you think in terms of the championship, it’s better.
“But I lost a victory. I’m pretty sure I could win today and I have just one victory in my career. So I would prefer to recover five points and have the victory!”
The Spaniard added: “Something I was missing in the last 4-5 races is to be the fastest on track. And I think this weekend, except during qualifying with the yellow flags, I’ve been the fastest.
“I’ve shown my speed and this for me is very important. Today I didn’t win because Fabio hit me, but I think the victory was clear. For me it’s important to have this feeling.”
Espargaro: ‘Fabio is not a dirty rider’
Reflecting on the incident itself, Espargaro felt that Quartararo’s near-perfect form of late had ultimately led to the misjudged move.
“The reason why Fabio did his move is because his feeling with the bike is super high right now. We saw it also in turn one in Germany with Pecco. He’s not a dirty rider, but his confidence is that high that he’s able to close a lot the lines.
“But today, I was also super fast, so I could close the line like him and we collided. He said to me, ‘sorry, because I made a big mistake when judging this overtake’.”
Espargaro added: “I’m an old man of this paddock, so I like to analyse how things go. I know the category, the bikes, my rivals. I know the confidence of Fabio and I also took a lot of time to analyse him on the videos, the races, the sessions, everything.
“I know how he is riding and his level of confidence is super high right now, but when you are in that moment, it’s not that easy to maintain this. To make no mistakes.
“Today it’s not that he was arrogant, but because he feels super faster than the rest, he made a bad judgement on that overtake and I knew that this could happen.
“From that moment I said to myself, ‘Fabio is almost perfect. He made no mistakes during the season, so if he did one mistake now, you have to take profit of this’.”
Espargaro: ‘My bike was unbelievable’
From the moment he rejoined the track in 15th place, and despite some drops of rain, Espargaro rode with a nothing-to-lose mentality.
“When Fabio hit me, I said, ‘your race is done’. Nothing will change if you score 2-3 points, doesn’t matter. You need to go for more than 10 points and if you crash, you crash.
“So I said to myself, ‘today is the day you have to prove you are fast and you have a good bike’. And I proved it. I was smiling when I saw the lap times; 32.5, 32.5. I said ‘what is this?’ It was amazing.
“I knew it was impossible that the others go at that pace and I saw that I was catching the leading group. So I was also angry, but at the same time happy to maintain that pace.
“I was never over the limit because I made no mistakes. I didn’t go wide anywhere. I was fast but the bike today was fantastic. Unbelievably good.
“In the last chicane I was braking a lot later than everybody and especially in the fast sector nobody was able to carry the speed that I was able to carry. This is why it was quite easy for me to overtake.”
Espargaro: I carried 20km/h more corner speed
Espargaro’s best overtake was undoubtably his last, when he outbraked both Brad Binder and Jack Miller into the final chicane.
Binder made light contact with Miller as the trio squeezed into the corner and some post-race comments seemed to suggest the Australian was unhappy with Espargaro’s move.
“It was not with me, actually. I said to [Jack] ‘I was not that dirty’. He said ‘no, I was not blaming you. I was blaming Brad, he hit me on the arm’. I said OK!” explained Espargaro.
The 32-year-old revealed that the key to the move had been his corner speed prior to the braking zone.
“The overtaking was in the last braking, but in reality the pass was in the left corner. I carried 20k per hour more, it was unbelievable the speed that I carried. So it was just the inertia that I got into the corner.
“I saw that Brad was not super good on the brakes there and I said ‘I go in’ and was able to stop the bike. I’m happy because it was very important for the points. I think every overtake I did during the race was there.”
‘Outstanding’ first half of the championship
Espargaro completed the opening 11 rounds with five podiums, including one win. Which could easily have been seven podiums without the Barcelona mishap and today’s Quartararo incident, or eight if you include front tyre vibration at the Sachsenring.
Even so, Espargaro’s 151 points has already smashed his previous MotoGP best of 126 points over the entire 18-round 2014 campaign with Forward Yamaha.
Most significantly, while Quartararo goes into the summer break just nine points under last year’s tally at the same stage of the season, Espargaro has gained a massive 84-points and seven championship places compared to one year ago.
“Fabio has the #1 on his back because he’s the world champion, and after last weekend he had exactly the same points as last year when he won the title. And now I’m 21 points behind him,” Espargaro said.
“It means that my level, and the first part of the championship has been outstanding.”
That 21-point gap mey yet reduce further at Silverstone, scene of Espargaro’s first podium on the RS-GP and where Quartararo will now need to serve a Long Lap penalty early in the race.
Such a penalty has typically cost around 4-6 positions, which could be especially painful for Quartararo, given the Yamaha’s difficulty in overtaking.