Valentino Rossi will start Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix from just eleventh on the grid after lapping 1.449s from pole position in qualifying at Sepang.

It was especially disappointing for the Italian and Ducati given that the MotoGP superstar had been tenth and 1.077s off the pace at the end of February's pre-season Sepang test, an outcome Rossi described at the time as 'quite negative'.

It had been hoped that modifications and set-up progress with the all-new aluminium frame GP12 during the 15 races since that test would help close the gap by the Malaysian return.

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But in terms of Rossi's one-lap Sepang pace he is further away than before, having struggled with the soft rear tyre.

"We were going pretty well at a certain point this afternoon, as I was able to do some laps with the hard tyre at a low-2m 2s pace," said Rossi, who was ninth at the midway point of the qualifying session.

"We were pretty optimistic for the end, but when we put on the soft, it triggered a lot of chatter and I wasn't able to improve enough to be further up the grid. Anyway, we're not too far from Hayden, Barbera, Bautista and Bradl, so we'll see."

Rossi insists they should be in better shape for the race, although rear tyre choice remains a considerable unknown - as does the weather, especially with the grand prix starting at a later than usual 4pm.

"The warm-up will be very important for choosing the tyres," said Rossi. "With the soft, it will certainly be necessary to slow down a lot in the second part of the race because today, it was already sliding a lot after just three or four laps.

"With the hard tyre, in theory we should suffer more at the beginning and then... we don't know yet. Tomorrow we'll try to understand. Finally, there's the rain variable, which could shake everything up. We'll see what time it comes."

Eleventh is Rossi's worst qualifying since round two at Jerez.

Things weren't much better for the other Ducati riders in qualifying - Pramac's Hector Barber hitched a tow on his way to seventh (+0.960s), with Rossi's factory team-mate Nicky Hayden eighth (+1.192s).

Hayden had been an almost identical 1.136s from the top on the last day of pre-season testing at the track, when he was riding soon after wrist surgery.

"It hasn't been an easy day," said the American on Saturday. "In qualifying I lost some time due to a couple of issues I was having with the clutch and rear brake.

"Then we made a few little changes and got going better, but I had so much chatter that both of my hands are still tingling. I think a lot of guys are dealing with it, but it's really making it difficult for me in the fast corners.

"I was able to do an okay lap, but the pace is really fast. I made one little mistake on what turned out to be my best lap, and that probably cost me two or three tenths.

"We've got a couple decisions to make for tomorrow, and we'll see what we can do."

Both Rossi and Hayden fell at turn one in Saturday morning's final practice. The #46, winner at Sepang in 2010, is to return to Yamaha next season.