Valentino Rossi and former arch-rival Sete Gibernau put their past conflict behind them during a public reconciliation on the eve of the Spaniard's MotoGP return, in Sunday's 2009 Qatar season opener.

Hostilities between Rossi and double title runner-up Gibernau were inflamed at the same Losail circuit in 2004, when Rossi was demoted to the back of the grid after his team was 'caught' cleaning his grid spot the night before the race.

Rightly or wrongly, Rossi blamed Gibernau for the 'unsporting' protest and is rumoured to have claimed that Sete, who went on to take victory, would not win again - and he (so far) hasn't.

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Relations between them sank further at the season-opening 2005 Spanish Grand Prix, when Rossi - typically refusing to admit defeat - launched a 'do or die' victory lunge at the final turn (pictured).

The pair collided and Gibernau was forced off track, while Rossi took the win. The podium ceremony marked the first and only time that Rossi has been booed by the fans.

Gibernau and Rossi continued to battle for victory during the rest of 2005, but Rossi always got the better of the Spaniard who - like Max Biaggi before him - increasingly seemed burnt out by the pressure of fighting The Doctor.

Gibernau then moved from Honda Gresini to Ducati Marlboro in 2006, but retired without a podium finish at the end of an injury-littered season. He was replaced by Casey Stoner, who went on to win the 2007 world championship.

The 36-year-old, involved in more last lap battles with Rossi than any other rider, is now returning to MotoGP action on a fifth Ducati, run by the Onde 2000 team, which is making the leap from 125GP racing.

With several seasons having passed since their fiercest battles, and with Gibernau unlikely to challenge Rossi for the 2009 title, it was perhaps unsurprising that the pair were willing to shake hands and put the past behind them during the Qatar pre-event press conference on Thursday.

"I am happy and proud to be here," said Gibernau, a nine time 500cc/MotoGP race winner. "The best years of my life have been in MotoGP, both inside of racing and outside of racing. I'm very proud of what I did in the past. I think I had some great races. I enjoyed the races that I won but also the races where Valentino beat me, because he is still winning now. They say, maybe all of us, that he is maybe the best rider ever and I've been able to fight with him and that is a big honour for me.

"I don't know if I can fight again with Valentino or the other guys now because I stopped for two years, but basically I came back to enjoy myself again. I hope I can enjoy myself again, inside and outside the racetrack, and also with Valentino, as in the past. Afterwards things happened and we did not enjoy so much... At the end of the day the reason I came back is to be happy. Already to be here is great. I thought I would never do this again!"

Rossi was then asked if it was possible to be friends with Sete again.

"Yes I think it is possible," replied Rossi, before indicating that Gibernau will be pushing as hard as ever. "Sete was already very fast in Jerez, now he is calm and quiet but he will try to win and arrive on the podium like all the other guys."

Rossi's main 2009 title rival is once again expected to be Stoner.