Marc Marquez is predicting this year's MotoGP title race will go down to the wire with little to choose at the top of the championship after the first seven rounds.
The Repsol Honda rider leads the way by 10 points from Jorge Lorenzo heading into this weekend's eighth round at Assen, with Valentino Rossi a further 12 points back in third.
Marquez admits he could never have imagined holding his current position at this stage in the season after a troubled pre-season build-up and although the Spanish star continues to struggle with his RC213V, he remains firmly in contention.
“Of course I'm very happy to lead the championship after seven rounds, but everything is very tight between us: it's only 20-22 points after seven races so that means it will be a tight championship until the end,” he said.
“On the other hand, we are there, we are in front and my biggest worry before the start of the season was these three races, especially Mugello and Montmelo, and we finished second in both races, so I'm happy with these races.
“Now in Assen it's a better circuit for me than the other ones but also Valentino is very fast here and Lorenzo, because it's a flowing track so he is fast,” he added.
“We will try to start well and keep the focus because for sure here, there will be some different practice conditions, so we will try to adapt as [best] we can.”
Marquez revealed he will start with 'exactly the same bike' he used in Catalunya last time out after admitting he had higher expectations for the post-race test in Barcelona.
“We had some new parts but honestly I expected more from this test. We worked hard and we took some positive points but in the end, for the moment here I start with exactly the same bike as I raced on the Sunday at Montmelo,” he said.
“We will see, but we are always working hard and we are trying to improve our acceleration, which is our weak point at the moment. I think something will arrive in the future if we work a lot.
“Dry conditions will be much better for the show and Mugello was a great race for the fans and Montmelo again. Here last year it was a great race so we will see but we know that everything will be tight and it will be difficult to be there.”
Marquez and Rossi famously clashed at Assen's infamous final chicane on the last lap in 2015, with the Italian rider running the gravel and managing to stay upright to seal victory.
Some alterations have been made to the chicane this year but Marquez feels the opportunities to attempt a last-ditch pass remain the same.
“The final chicane is always a tricky corner and it's always a place for the last lap that is so difficult to manage, if you are in front or behind. Anyway, this year we will try to push harder on the previous laps to try to arrive in front,” he said.
“The last corner is another corner like you have at Jerez and many circuits where you always have the possibility to overtake. They have changed it a little bit this year and modified it for safety and I think it's better, but every year is different and every situation is different.”
The Dutch TT takes place on a Sunday this year after being held on Saturdays in previous seasons but Marquez says it makes little difference either way.
“For me it was a normal GP from the beginning but I think it was more special in the past when it was the old track,” he said. “From 2008, I feel like it is a normal GP, the only thing different is that we race on a Saturday.”