Ducati riders Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone did a terrible job of reducing victory expectations by leading day one of the Austrian MotoGP.

The factory stars have been tipped as the riders to beat at the Red Bull Ring ever since dominating a test session at the circuit, which is hosting its first motorcycle grand prix since 1997.

There have been a number of changes relative to the July test; a narrower final turn, colder weather and revised (harder) Michelin rear tyres.

Yet the end result was a best Friday lap time by Dovizioso of 1m 23.617s - almost identical to the 1m 23.860s he recorded on his way to second behind Iannone at the test.

"I'm really happy to confirm the speed we had in the test with different tyres," Dovizioso began. "Because we had a question mark about the rear tyre and the grip is very low today - but in any case, we keep the speed, the same difference to the others.

"I'm really happy to be in this condition, also because we can concentrate tomorrow just on the race pace. We don't have a problem to stay in the top ten, so we will have two full practice sessions to just work on race pace.

"So for sure it is good to be in this condition, but I'm not 100% happy. We have to improve the pace for the 28 laps."

Iannone was 0.238s slower than his team-mate, with Suzuki's Maverick Vinales - surprise leader of the cold morning session, when the Ducatis were second and third - best of the rest, but some 0.854s from the top.

Valentino Rossi was the only other rider within one-second of Dovizioso, with fellow title contenders Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo 1.3s and 1.4s back respectively.

"Is a good gap, but I don't think it's as big as everyone says. I think in reality it's a little bit smaller and the riders that are normally at the front of the race will be closer. For example Marc didn't test here, so for sure he has the biggest margin to improve."

Dovizioso, who cited fuel consumption as a factor in the race, added: "Everybody looks at the lap time or pace in practice and says 'it is like this'. It is not. There is a way to do the lap time, a way to set-up the bike up and a way to use the power.

"Some riders are fast in practice but in the race, without full power and on used tyres, they are not at the front. That's why I say we have a margin, but we have to keep working for the 28 laps."

The short and deceptively simple looking Red Bull Ring became the fastest circuit on the calendar on Friday, courtesy of an average speed of 185.9km/h by Dovizioso, beating the official pole record at Phillip Island.

Yet the longest straight is only 626m, with top speeds of 'only' 310km/h, so does it actually feel fast?

"Yes, especially because the guardrail is very close on the straights," Dovizioso replied. "The maximum speed is not so high here, but you are on full throttle and with our bike when you are on full throttle the speed goes up very quick! You can feel it. The layout of the track is small and quite easy, but it's nice."

The key to Ducati's advantage is the succession of hard acceleration areas out of slow corners. Dovizioso also credits the soon-to-be-banned wings for keeping the front wheel down during the many undulations.

"I believe the wings make the difference about the wheelie. It's a few things together that create better acceleration," Dovizioso said. "We have better acceleration from slow corners and more power on the straights. Those are the two biggest reasons why we are faster. But it's been like this for two years."

Dovizioso admits that holding such an advantage means he is feeling the pressure to deliver Ducati's long-awaited victory this weekend.

"It is normal because the test was very nice for us and already today we have a gap compared to the other bikes," he said. "For sure there is a big pressure but this racing. It is normal to live with pressure and the strong riders are strong also because they are good at managing that. I have to deal with that."

Iannone, the rider currently most likely to challenge Dovizioso, revealed he is struggling with rib injuries from a motocross training accident.

"I have a lot of pain on my ribs in my ribs, because in the last training during the summer with my motocross bike I crash. Before I come here everything was okay for me physically, but after the second lap today I understand I have a very big problem on my ribs.

"But okay. We try the best always. Also in this condition. [It hurts most] in the change of direction from corner 7-8. In 5-6. And especially when I pick up the bike and try the best acceleration. This bike has a very strong power. So it is very difficult.

"I have to thank Dr. Zasa of the Clinica Mobile, who helped me a lot today and thanks to painkillers I was able to do the first part of the session without suffering too much."

On the positive side, Iannone was also relieved to find Ducati held its speed advantage with the revised tyres - adding that it may even be possible to race with the softer option.

"When you change the tyres everything is possible but today we confirmed we are very good competitive on this track. The bike is very fast. Also me and Andrea have a very good feeling with the bike and could push very strong from the beginning of second practice.

"This morning we used the soft tyre. This afternoon we start with hard tyres and the feeling was not so bad from the beginning. We improved the lap time, feeling and consistency of the tyres and I think it is a good option for the race.

"But in the last five minutes when we tried the soft tyres the lap time improved a lot and we don't expect this. I think it's better tomorrow to try this tyre for the race, try the consistency, because I think it is also a very good option for the race."

Ducati hasn't won a MotoGP race since Casey Stoner in 2010. The retired Australian star is present this weekend, having also taken part in the test.

By Peter McLaren