Just when Valentino Rossi and Ducati look to be making consistent progress, they seem to suddenly slip back down the MotoGP order.

That was certainly the case at Estoril where, after fourth at the end of dry Friday practice (when the Italian also declared a clear improvement in his healing shoulder) and then again in the damp Saturday morning session, Rossi dropped to ninth in dry qualifying.

That still made Rossi the best of the six Ducatis, underlining that something about the Estoril circuit on Saturday afternoon clashed with the GP11s.

"I'm a little disappointed with my performance today because I expected to get the fifth- or sixth-best time and be on the second row; that was the target," confessed Rossi. "Unfortunately, though, it was a little more difficult than expected, and I wasn't able to ride like I could yesterday since I didn't have as much feeling.

"I couldn't fight for a position that we would have been happier with. I struggled a little with the track conditions, as I didn't have enough grip, especially on the front, and we're trying to understand why.

"For tomorrow, we have to try to improve something with the front setup in order to still have a good race. I think the best pace will be around 1:37.5, and I'd be very happy to get in the high 1:37s, but we'll have to find something in order to do that."

Seven time MotoGP champion Rossi lapped 1.1sec slower than Yamaha's pole sitter Jorge Lorenzo, but rain could play a part in Sunday's race. Rossi was closing in on the race lead at the previous Jerez round in wet conditions, before he crashed and brought down Casey Stoner.

"I'm not hoping for a wet race, because although it's true that we might be able to have more fun, racing in the dry makes it possible to understand more," mused Rossi. "Really, both options are fine."

Team-mate Nicky Hayden will start just 13th, ten places lower than he finished morning practice. The Jerez podium finisher felt the cool temperatures and dirty track caused his grip difficulties.

"I really thought we had made some good progress yesterday, and I'm certainly not thrilled about qualifying 13th, especially when we were third this morning - I liked the sound of that a lot better," said the American.

"This morning we went out on the slicks and had a pretty decent feeling for a patchy track. In the afternoon, the track was pretty dry apart from a few patches, but it was definitely cooler and dirty, which didn't help with the tyres.

"I just wasn't able to get enough grip, especially in the front and over the bumps. I had one front tyre that we couldn't get to come in for some reason, and between losing those laps and coming back in to change it, we lost some time there.

"We also made a change with the rear to try to get it to turn better, and maybe we went too far and got it a bit wrong. Anyway, that clearly wasn't good enough, but we'll give it our best tomorrow."