Yamaha Movistar has announced Valentino Rossi has signed a new contract that will keep him in the team and MotoGP until the end of the 2018 season.

The 37-year-old motorcycling legend was always expected to sign a new two-year deal with Yamaha, rather than retire.

However, Rossi had suggested he would wait five or six races to confirm he is still competitive in the new era of Michelin tyres and a single ECU.

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Instead, already convinced he can again fight for victories, the 2015 title runner-up put pen to paper at the Qatar season-opener, where qualifying takes place later today.

"I am very happy to announce that Yamaha and I have extended our contract and will continue working together in MotoGP for the next two years. I am very satisfied with this decision, because it has always been my plan to compete in motorsports for as long as I can be competitive and find it enjoyable at the same time.

"Ever since I returned to Yamaha in 2013 I have felt like I am home again and this showed in the results. I get great enjoyment out of working with my crew and the rest of the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team. Their support for me has known no limit and I want to thank them sincerely for that. I'm feeling greatly motivated to keep riding my YZR-M1 for the best results possible, this year and the following two seasons.

"I also want to say a big 'Thank You' to my fans, who are always behind me every step of the way, making the races extra special. I will keep pushing at each and every Grand Prix so we can all keep enjoying MotoGP for more years to come!"

Rossi made his grand prix debut back in 1996, joining the premier-class with Honda in 2000 then making a shock switch to Yamaha in 2004, beginning a successful relationship that has thus far yielded four world titles and 53 grand prix wins.

Though he hasn't won a title since 2009, and later endured two miserable seasons at Ducati, he came remarkably close in 2015 following a season-long - and occasionally contentious - battle with team-mate Jorge Lorenzo.

But while there were concerns of harmony within the fold between the two riders, Yamaha managing director Lin Jarvis is delighted to have retained the iconic Italian for at least two more seasons.

"I believe the confirmation of the extension with Valentino will be music to the ears of Yamaha fans and MotoGP fans around the world. I cannot think of a better way to start a new season than for both parties to make this strong commitment.

"From Vale's side a statement of commitment to the sport he loves and towards the Yamaha brand; from Yamaha's side a confirmation of the recognition to the rider that has brought us four MotoGP world titles and who remains so passionate about his sport and is still highly competitive, as proven by his two 2nd positions in the last two seasons."

Jarvis also suggested that this will be Rossi's final MotoGP contract:

"When Vale returned home [to Yamaha] in 2013 it was 'a decision for life'. This new agreement confirms that Vale will indeed finish his motorcycle racing career with Yamaha.

"Before that however all Yamaha fans can enjoy three full seasons of exciting performances from 'the Doctor' as he challenges to win his 10th World Title for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team."

In all, Rossi has won seven premier-class titles and a record 86 race wins.

Reigning triple champion Lorenzo, fastest during pre-season testing, is also tipped to remain at Yamaha. Indeed, the Spaniard wanted to secure his future before the start of the new season. Instead, he has been made to wait...

Yamaha is the first manufacturer to confirm a 2017 factory rider, with all other seats still up for grabs, although there is some form of option for Maverick Vinales and Suzuki.