The cooler track temperatures on Saturday morning relative to how they were on Friday afternoon meant improvements on the combined order started to show in the opening stages of FP3.
After just seven minutes of running in the 45-minute session, seven riders had made gains on their Friday best – Ducati’s Jack Miller the most significant of those in third with a 1m39.756s.
Reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo then moved up to second with a 1m39.628s on his Yamaha just under 10 minutes in, the Frenchman admitting on Friday that he was worried about the low-grip conditions at the Barcelona circuit.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, Friday pacesetter Espargaro bettered his FP2 best with a 1m39.309s as he was one of the first to go for a soft tire time attack.
But it was on his next tour where the Spaniard shone, as he dipped underneath the lap record with a 1m38.771s to move over six tenths clear of the field.
Much like in Argentina – when he qualified on pole and won the race – Espargaro is taking profit of the 2022 Aprilia’s excellent mechanical grip as the rest scrabble for traction at Barcelona.
Espargaro’s advantage at the top of the timesheets was whittled away as the session drew to a close, with Pramac’s Johann Zarco leading the Ducati charge in second – 0.131 seconds off the pace.
Jorge Martin, who has reverted to an old front fork for this weekend and has found his front-end confidence again, completed the top three ahead of factory Ducati team duo Francesco Bagnaia and Miller.
Championship leader Quartararo was sixth on his Yamaha, 0.317s off the pace, as VR46 Ducati rider Luca Marini bagged a direct spot into Q2 in seventh.
Honda’s Pol Espargaro brushed off an early crash at Turn 5 to finish FP3 eighth and get into Q2 ahead of Suzuki’s Alex Rins and Mugello poleman Fabio Di Giannantonio on the Gresini Ducati.
Saturday’s Q1 qualifying session has shaped up to be an intense affair, as three-time race winner in 2022 Enea Bastianini failed to get the second Gresini GP21 into the top 10 in 12th.
The Italian is sandwiched between Maverick Vinales on the other Aprilia and Joan Mir on the second of the Suzukis in 13th, while Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli couldn’t carry on his strong Friday form and ended up 15th.
KTM’s miserable season continued in FP3 at Barcelona as Brad Binder was the best of the RC16s in 16th after a crash at the start of the session, while factory teammate Miguel Oliveira was 18th.
Qualifying for the 2022 MotoGP Catalan GP gets underway at 2:10pm local time.