It didn't quite match Welkom 2004, but Valentino Rossi labelled his comeback Yamaha MotoGP race 'close to perfect' - and again praised the performance of rookie Marc Marquez.

After two poor years at Ducati, when he was only able to attack during wet races, Rossi made an action-packed M1 return in the Qatar night race.

The Italian superstar moved swiftly from seventh to fourth on the opening lap, but dropped back to seventh after a mistake.

Rossi then rode through the field to reach second place, behind team-mate and reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo.

"The maximum is victory, but this second is close to perfect," said Rossi.

Asked to compare his emotions with winning on his Yamaha debut at Welkom in 2004, Rossi replied:

"Victory is always better. Always. So Welkom was more special. But now my rivals are unbelievable. The level is very high. So to come back on the podium and second place is a great emotion."

Rossi spent the closing stages of the Losail race locked in a thrilling duel with Moto2 champion Marquez, who was making his first MotoGP appearance and set the fastest lap of the race.

Marquez's raw speed and fighting style has prompted comparisons with Rossi during his debut 2000 season. The seven time MotoGP champion spotted one difference between them.

"Marc did the fastest lap in his first race, like I did. But I crashed, so he is better than me!" Rossi smiled.

Acknowledging that the 20-year-old will only get better, Rossi added: "I have to beat Marc as much as possible in the first half of the season, because maybe in the second half it will be more difficult!"

Also difficult could be the second round of the championship at Austin, Texas next weekend. A circuit where the Honda riders - and especially Marquez - dominated a private winter test.

"I didn't expect this advantage over Honda here in Qatar. For the next race it will be harder," said Rossi. "I hope we will be more competitive than in the test, because we have a better setting now, but it looks like our opponents are very strong.

"My target will be another podium and to keep points, because after that we go back to Europe and some very good race tracks for me and Yamaha. The older tracks where I grew up and learned to ride, are usually better for me."