Valentino Rossi faces a 0.823s gap to team-mate and title rival Jorge Lorenzo after day one of the Japanese MotoGP.
Motegi marked the seventh time in a row that Rossi has begun a grand prix weekend slower than Lorenzo, the Spaniard in turn silencing speculation over his fitness after hurting his shoulder last weekend.
Rossi, just 14 points ahead of Lorenzo with four rounds to go, dropped from third (+0.4s) in morning practice to eighth in the afternoon. The Movistar Yamaha riders look more closely matched for race pace, albeit with Lorenzo still clearly ahead.
“The end result of today is not fantastic for sure, because I'm just eighth, but this morning was not so bad and also in the afternoon I felt quite good with the harder tyre,” said Rossi, who is losing most time to Lorenzo during the second part of the lap.
“But when I put the soft tyre at the end I expected to improve more, usually you can easily improve by half a second or one second, but unfortunately this didn't happen.
"It was a bad surprise and it means we are not very good with the setting. We are not well balanced with the bike, we push too much the rear tyre and the soft tyre suffered to much so we need to work.
“Now we have to check the data and try to understand which way to follow for tomorrow, also because Jorge is very strong. He is fastest also in the rhythm and it looks like he is at 100% and doesn't have a lot of trouble with the shoulder. So for sure it will be very difficult to beat him, but we have to try.
“Pedrosa is fast and the Ducatis very strong. It looks like Marquez suffered a bit with the hand but is anyway also strong so we have to improve.”
While the factory class Yamaha and Honda riders have the soft and medium rear tyres to choose from this weekend, the rest of the field have the soft and extra soft compounds.
That extra soft is expected to make the likes of Ducati very strong during Saturday's qualifying.
"The best thing for me is some Ducatis in front of Jorge on the grid, but not behind Jorge and in front of me - is a disaster. For sure it will be like this!" Rossi joked.
"Because the Ducatis are very fast on the straight, more than 10km/h of difference compared to me, so this in case of a fight is difficult to manage. The Ducati with the extra-soft will be very strong. So I hope also stronger than Jorge. This would be good, but it is early to say."
While Lorenzo was riding for the first time since a shoulder injury in training, Rossi was back on track for the first time since a fast accident at the Aragon Michelin test.
The nine time world champion revealed he fell at 140km/h, adding: "We are very worried because we crash more with the Michelin in two tests than with Bridgestone in 14 races!"
Meanwhile, rain remains a threat for Sunday's race and, unless Rossi and his team make major set-up progress, could offer the Italian's best chance of getting on terms with Lorenzo - winner at Motegi for the past two seasons.
Before that Rossi will need to confirm direct access to Saturday's Q2 session by remaining in the top ten during FP3.