Valentino Rossi's second MotoGP season at Ducati got off to a nightmare start when he qualified just twelfth fastest, and slowest of the manufacturer bikes, in Qatar on Saturday night.
The seven-time MotoGP champion had been in the lower reaches of the top ten throughout practice, but dropped even further off the pace to finish ahead of only the new privateer 'Claiming Rule Team' competitors in qualifying.
Massive technical changes have been made since Rossi's Ducati debut at the same Losail circuit last season, when The Doctor qualified ninth and 1.5sec from the top.
That marked the start of Rossi's first winless season in grand prix, but the information gained resulted in major frame and weight distribution changes for the 'all new' GP12.
Yet Rossi was left 2.2sec from pole on Saturday, having earlier spoken of a top six grid target - something achieved by team-mate Nicky Hayden, who was 1.2sec quicker for fifth position.
“My goal was to qualify on the second row. I'm very far from that target though, as the problems that we had before were worse,” began Rossi, who has battled continued understeer, despite improved front-end feeling from the new aluminum-frame machine.
The #46, whose winter testing progress suffered due to a wrong set-up direction at the second Sepang test, was forced to undo small changes that had magnified the problems.
“It's very strange because we only made some small changes from yesterday, but the feeling was very different. After that we returned to yesterday's setting and I went a little bit faster, but it wasn't enough to significantly improve the result,” said Rossi.
“I'm not sure what to expect for the race, but obviously, I hope to do better. Nicky made a different set-up choice than ours and did a good session with both tyres, so now we'll also look at his data and try to do better.”
Rossi was only 0.8sec faster than top CRT rider and former Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards, whose Superbike-powered Suter chassis was competing in its first grand prix qualifying session.