Maverick Vinales is oozing confidence with the Ecstar Suzuki after setting the fifth fastest time during FP3 at the Qatar MotoGP on Friday.
Vinales, who was touted as a major contender for Sunday's opening race of the new season under the Losail floodlights by Valentino Rossi on Thursday, was three tenths down on Ducati's Andrea Iannone after a lap in 1m 54.976s on the GSX-RR.
The young Spaniard has impressed throughout pre-season and has carried that momentum into the first race weekend, buoyed by the progress made by Suzuki over the winter.
“Really good, I feel comfortable on the bike and quite confident and with the hard tyre I am also feeling great,” was Vinales' assessment of his performance on Friday evening.
“Anyway for tomorrow, still we need to improve the electronics because I have some problems when I go to the corners – the rear starts to slide, so we need to set up the engine brake but we are quite ready for the race. The others will improve so we need to improve too.”
Vinales has total confidence in the front end of his Suzuki and in contrast to many of his rivals, the 21-year-old is receiving solid feedback from the front Michelin tyre, enabling him to push to the limit of grip.
“Our bike is always good in the front so if you try to push more, the bike advises you where the limit is, so this is really good because we can know the limit. This is a really positive thing,” he said.
“For me, I feel so confident with the bike – maybe if I have one moment, I crash, but anyway now I have a good feeling and when I go to make the race pace in 1m '55 I feel confident and good.
“We are aiming for four or five [in qualifying] and if we can do it, it will be perfect. It will be so difficult but we will try and if we can do it, for sure we will be competitive for the race,” Vinales added.
“When I'm 11th I feel much more nerves than I do when I am five – I feel great when I'm close to the top.”
Vinales his pinpointed the new GSX-RR motor as the biggest step forward for 2016, coupled with the benefit of a year's experience in the premier class.
“I think for me it is the way that we work now. We work so hard and we are so concentrated, when the bike goes good you can work metre by metre and it comes much more easy,” he said.
“Also the step comes in the engine and now we feel quite competitive. And a little bit the set-up, because after one year we have experience because we tried so many things; we have a little bit more grip and this helps a lot.”
Asked if he had experienced any of the turbulence issues that some MotoGP riders have claimed arise when they are in the slipstream of the Ducati GP16s, which are fitted with up to four wings, Vinales said: “No, I was not that close.”
He will make a late decision on Saturday on whether or not to race with the full seamless gearbox after testing the upgrade this week.
“I am making laps to see if we can make race distance with the full seamless and I will decide in the last minute, like always,” Vinales said.