Valentino Rossi will defend an 18-point MotoGP championship lead from just seventh on the grid in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

Both Rossi and title rival Jorge Lorenzo suffered their worst qualifying results since Indianapolis, six rounds ago.

For Lorenzo that still meant a front row start in third, while Movistar Yamaha team-mate Rossi lines-up on row three of the grid.

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"A difficult day for me," Rossi said. "This morning I started quite well and was quite strong, but after we try to modify and improve but in general we don't find anything very interesting. So we arrived a bit in trouble for qualifying and my qualifying was not good enough."

The Italian lapped 0.650s behind Marc Marquez's pole time and 0.334s from Lorenzo.

"At the end I did a lap that was not so bad, but because I'm not very fast I have to start from the third row. So from the third row will be difficult, but especially we want to find something to be a bit faster," said The Doctor.

"We tried a lot of things, especially to try to avoid the wheelspin in acceleration but unfortunately nothing worked very well. I'm constant, not so bad, but not fast enough.

"I lose in section two but mainly section four. Unfortunately when I open the throttle I go always a bit too wide. I have a bit too much understeer. We try to fix but in reality we don't find the right solution. We have to improve, mainly section four, especially after some laps I spin too much.

"For the race like this is difficult because Marquez is very fast, but also Iannone and Jorge are faster than me so we have to find something. Fortunately we have time, we have the warm-up, and it will be very important to find something to be strong because I'm not very fast."

Rossi underlined that outgoing world champion Marquez is the favourite for victory at the moment, a result that could be seen as helping Rossi's championship challenge.

"I think that Marquez is clearly the favourite for the race, because he is very fast," he said. "Looks like here the Honda is very strong because also Pedrosa [fourth] is good. But Jorge is always very strong in the race so nobody make the mistake to say he is out [of victory].

"After Marquez have Jorge, Iannone, Pedrosa, me - minimum four riders that have a very similar pace for the race. So it looks like everything can happen."

On paper, Rossi can afford to finish one place behind Lorenzo even if the Spaniard wins the remaining three races.

In reality, the 36-year-old believes he needs to finish ahead of Lorenzo at least once more in the remaining rounds to be world champion for a tenth time.

And, despite a difficult Saturday, Rossi certainly doesn't think Lorenzo is out of reach at Phillip Island.

"Marc is very strong, today unbelievable. Sincerely also [like me] Jorge is not fantastic because also he have some problem, but anyway is a bit faster than me," Rossi said.

"That is the important thing at this moment because also for example Iannone today is stronger compared to Jorge. But this is Saturday, depends tomorrow. Maybe we find something that helps us..."