For the sixth event in succession, Valentino Rossi finished Friday MotoGP practice behind team-mate and title rival Jorge Lorenzo.
And although the pair finished one-two in free practice at Aragon, Lorenzo was a hefty 0.683s quicker than his Movistar Yamaha team-mate.
Rossi briefly moved ahead of Lorenzo by fitting a new medium compound rear tyre in the closing stages of FP2, but when the #99 followed suit the full extent of his pace became clear.
“Jorge did a very good lap time, a '47.5s, and we know that Jorge is always very strong in the one lap, the hot lap, and he was able to put all the sections together,” Rossi said. “It is true also that he did a real time attack, 100%.
“Sincerely I start more like race pace so I want to try to feel more constant to understand the rear tyre. I think Jorge pushed more, but anyway the lap time is impressive because six tenths are a lot. So tomorrow we have to put all the sections together and try to make a '47.”
Rossi conceded that his team-mate has 'made another step' since the summer break.
“I think in the last races Jorge made another step and he is in a great shape. He is a lot stronger than last year,” Rossi declared. “Because for example last year Jorge sometimes had some problems in practice like me, sometimes he was sixth or seventh, this year he is always strong and fast.
“It means he arrives at a level of concentration that is very close to 100%.
“About the skills of riding I think not a lot [has changed], but especially the motivation and concentration because in practice he is very strong. It is not just the speed, but when he works to find the right setting during practice he is anyway always very fast. This is very good because you can stay always in the top positions.
“[I am] always working on my riding style, position on the bike, the way to use the brakes and everything. It is always a great evolution in MotoGP especially when you have to fight against Pedrosa, but especially Marquez and Lorenzo. They are able to always raise the level. So it is important to try to stay at the same level and don't take too much disadvantage.”
Although Tech 3's Bradley Smith completed an all-Yamaha top three at Aragon on Friday, the final standings didn't tell the whole story since Honda riders Dani Pedrosa (+0.841s) and Marc Marquez (+0.884s) remained on the hard rear tyre.
If they had fitted the medium, Rossi believes they would have been as fast as the Yamahas.
“It's true that the two Hondas - Pedrosa and Marquez - didn't use the soft rear, which means if they put the soft rear so it means if they put the soft rear they can go faster than me,” Rossi confirmed.
“The important thing is that we are there - I'm not so far and I feel good with the bike. But we have still some problems in braking where we can improve.
“The Hondas are always very, very strong here so to already be able to fight with them is good. I think the tyre choice will be very important, because both the front and rear choice is open. You can use the hard or medium.”
Nevertheless, Rossi felt Yamaha's decision to select Aragon as its 2015 test track - due to past difficulties - had paid dividends thanks to data from a recent private test.
“For sure we did a good job in the test. Together with the team we decide on this track for our 2015 testing because always with the M1 we suffer here in Aragon," he said.
“So we try to improve and this help a lot for the start of practice because we had a good base setting and I can be quite fast from this morning. This morning I was third, this afternoon second, so I'm happy about today. Is a good start.”
Rossi has rebuilt his title lead to 23 points over Lorenzo after rain at the last two races, but Aragon looks unlikely to offer such changeable weather.
“23 points can be a lot, but also a small advantage because everything can happen in five races," Rossi said. "Now we arrive at the important moment of the championship. Before thinking about strategy I need to work on my speed, my settings, to be strong and start in front for the race and after see what happens.”