Andrea Dovizioso concedes he still has some work to do to get on terms with Repsol Honda team-mates Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, but insists he can be a reckoned force in MotoGP this season.
The Italian begins his third season with the expanded factory Honda outfit, though he will now have two team-mates to contend with following the arrival with Stoner.
So far, while Dovizioso has featured well inside the top five in most of the test sessions at Sepang, he has been consistently out-paced by both Pedrosa and Stoner over a single lap and over a race distance.
Still, while Dovizioso admits he is playing catch-up, he wants to wait until the MotoGP field trials another circuit before concluding whether or not he will be a title contender in 2011.
“I believe we can think about the championship because we have many possibilities to get it. The situation now is that I am not so fast as Dani or Casey, especially in setting fast laps, but also a little bit in race pace. We did both tests in the same circuit, so we need to know which will be the level in another track and the difference with the other rivals.
“I really think that we have many chances to fight. We still have to improve in some areas and solve the problems with the front end,, but I am confident we will be able to do a very good season. If we will be in the actual battle for the championship, we still don't know.”
A race winner in 2009, although Dovizioso didn't taste the winners' champagne last season, he was a more frequent podium visitor and at one stage led team-mate Pedrosa in the overall standings.
Though contractual obligations saved Dovizioso from 'relegation' to satellite status – in turn forcing Repsol Honda to expand to three bikes -, he is confident he won't be disgraced alongside his accomplished counterparts.
“I think this season will be faster and more closely-fought than in the last few years. The level of the Hondas and the Yamahas is very similar and there are six riders that use these two brands that have chances to fight for victory in the races and the championship. We also need to take Valentino into account, as everyone knows how strong he is.
“About us, having three riders together in the HRC official team is important and it also gives us a lot of motivation. I had never seen such fast preseason tests as the first and second session we had, where the riders improved their lap times a lot.
“This means that they all want to be in front and is really motivating. It is also important because Honda will have the possibility to always be in the fight for the lead.”