Reigning double world champion Jorge Lorenzo believes former team-mate Ben Spies is still one of the fastest riders in MotoGP.
While Lorenzo rode to six wins and 16 podiums last year, Spies was tormented by incidents, accidents, technical problems and finally injury during a miserable second year at the factory M1 team.
Seven time champion Valentino Rossi has returned alongside Lorenzo for 2013, but for the Spaniard it is a case of one talented team-mate being replaced by another.
After Honda's Dani Pedrosa had commented that the arrival of Marc Marquez "is not a big change because I've always had good team-mates", Lorenzo added:
"In theory for me it is the same, because I understand that Ben Spies is a great rider. Just he didn't feel great last season, but I believe he is one of the fastest riders in MotoGP."
2011 race winner Spies, who announced he was leaving Yamaha midway through last season, ended up tenth in the standings with a best result of fourth. The Texan has joined Pramac Ducati, for whom he will make his race debut on Sunday, although the shoulder injury that brought an early end to the 2012 season is yet to fully heal.