A closing salvo of fast laps saw Fabio Quartararo, Jack Miller and Johann Zarco in quick succession take over top spot, but it was the latter’s 1m57.767s – a new lap record at Silverstone – which stood for the Frenchman’s second pole of 2022.
Drama struck Espargaro before qualifying got underway when he suffered a 115mph crash at Farm Curve during FP4.
The Aprilia rider was taken to the medical center for checks having been stretched off-track, but was soon declared fit to ride despite suffering some bruising to his right foot.
His initial run put him last in the Q2 group in 12th with a lap 1.6s off the pace, but he returned to pitlane for fresh rubber and saw out the session.
Pramac’s Jorge Martin laid down the gauntlet on his opening time attack lap with a 1m58.377s, as his teammate Johann Zarco slotted in behind 0.053 seconds adrift.
Championship leader Quartararo took over moments later with a 1m58.259s to lead the field over MotoGP’s longest lap by just 0.001s as Jack Miller on the factory Ducati shadowed him.
On his second run, Espargaro began to light up the timing screens and produced the first new lap record of the day with a 1m57.966s to take provisional pole.
His heroics would not be rewarded with a front row start, however, as he found himself shuffled back to a still honorable sixth.
Quartararo briefly went pole with a 1m57.938s, before Miller – shadowing the Yamaha rider – snatched it away with a 1m57.931s.
But it was the 1m57.767s from Zarco which won qualifying Saturday at Silverstone, the Frenchman just 0.098s clear of the second Aprilia of Maverick Vinales after a later surge from the 2016 British GP winner.
Quartararo ultimately found himself shuffled off of the front row into fourth come the final reckoning, which will complicate his strategy for the race when he has to serve a long lap penalty for a collision with Espargaro at Assen in June before the summer break.
Francesco Bagnaia completed the top five on the sister factory team Ducati ahead of Espargaro, with Marco Bezzecchi seventh on his VR46 Ducati having come through the Q1 session.
He headed Q1 pacesetter Enea Bastianini by 0.005s in eighth, with the Gresini Ducati rider outqualifying Martin, Luca Marini on the sister VR46 bike and Suzuki duo Alex Rins and Joan Mir.
A tense end to the Q1 session led to disappointment for KTM as Bezzecchi’s late improvement to get into Q2 denied Brad Binder a place in the pole shootout session.
Binder was further demoted by KTM teammate Miguel Oliveira, who will start 13th after missing Q2 by just 0.097s.
Fabio Di Giannantonio was shuffled back to 15th at the end of Q1 on his Gresini Ducati ahead of Tech 3 KTM rider Remy Gardner in his best qualifying result of his rookie season in 16th.
Alex Marquez was left disgruntled with Bezzecchi after the pair got too close for comfort on track up at Stowe while the former was pushing for a time attack lap, before crashing at Vale.
The LCR Honda rider got back out for the end of Q1, but will start as the top Honda runner in 17th ahead of factory duo Stefan Bradl – who is under investigation for blocking Bezzecchi at Luffield late on – and Pol Espargaro.
Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli occupied a Q2 spot in the early stages of Q1, but was demoted to 10th at the checkered flag ahead of LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami, Tech 3’s Raul Fernandez – who suffered an engine failure in the preceding FP4 session – and RNF duo Darryn Binder and Andrea Dovizioso.
The 20-lap 2022 MotoGP British Grand Prix will get underway at 1pm local time on Sunday.