Dani Pedrosa may have put last year's arm-pump problems behind him, but he was still further from victory in Qatar than in the 2015 race, after which he withdrew to seek surgery.
Pedrosa was sixth and 10.755s from the Qatar winner in 2015, compared with fifth but 14.083s behind this time around.
Honda is playing catch-up in adapting to the new unified ECU software - while also learning the new Michelin tyres - and Pedrosa made clear they have plenty of work ahead for this weekend's second round in Argentina.
“At the Qatar GP, we made a consistent step forward with the set-up compared to the winter test. We improved our pace and I was able to maintain it during the race, with good consistency.
“The positives were that my arm worked well at a track that has proven challenging in that respect in the past, and that we were able to learn more about the new bike.
“But it's still not enough; we need to improve the riding position, the way the bike behaves on the track and the setup in general in order to find better speed, because at the moment the gap to the leaders is still too big. That will be our target for Argentina.
“I didn't race here last season, but I have good memories of the track from 2014, I like the layout and I hope we'll be able to take another step.”
Team-mate Marc Marquez finished third in Qatar.