Valentino Rossi believes it is too early to rule out any chance of MotoGP victory at the Red Bull Ring in Austria despite witnessing the awesome straight-line speed and acceleration of the factory Ducatis first hand.
The nine-time world champion was competitive throughout the first day of MotoGP free practice but nonetheless ended FP2 in fourth, a considerable margin of 0.866s back of pace setter Andrea Dovizioso, and 0.6s of countryman Andrea Iannone.
The scorer of just eight points in the past two races, Rossi knows a strong points haul in the tenth round of the series is vital, but acknowledged his chances of overcoming the factory Ducatis depend on how they manage their power in Sunday's 28-lap race.
“It's very difficult to know,” said the 37-year old when asked whether he was already resigned to fighting for third place.
“We have to just give the maximum, try to fix all the small details to go a bit faster on the straight. But you know, is very difficult to go faster on the straight. You can try to exit faster from the corner, but on the straight, the level is what it is.
“But you never know. It's just Friday, we have Saturday, and especially the race is always different. It depends very much if we are able to keep the slipstream of the Ducati.
“During the practice, I followed Dovizioso, and for me is difficult. But you never know. Also because everybody is worried for the fuel consumption. And also I hope that the Ducati have to take a little bit less power, but I don't know. We have to wait.”
Rossi was just 14th fastest through the speed trap in FP2, some eight kph down on Dovizioso's Ducati, and pointed to the Desmosedici's ability to accelerate without wheelie-ing as reason for their current superiority.
“The Ducati have a lot of horsepower, but what they are able to do better compared to the Yamaha and Honda is less wheelie. For this reason, they are very fast in acceleration. Because it looks like the bike accelerates more with less wheelie on the front. So for this reason it's very difficult.
“It's too early to say if we can fight with Ducatis. For me, for sure is more more important [Jorge] Lorenzo and [Marc] Márquez than the Ducati, but I don't want to start just for third place. It's too early. We have to try to stay with them. Also because 28 laps are very long.”
While the Italian used a new rear tyre at the end of the session to post a lap time, Rossi recognised chief rival Marquez and Lorenzo's focus on race rubber. He thus envisions a stronger challenge from both men on Saturday.
“The lap time is not so bad. Now we have to work. We have to improve. I think it will be very difficult with the two factory Ducatis, because they are very fast. At the same time, I think tomorrow, Lorenzo and Márquez will be competitive, because today they continue with the hard tyres. They don't put the soft at the end.
“But I'm quite satisfied because my bike is not so bad and I can take a good rhythm. So we hope for better conditions tomorrow, and especially for dry conditions on Sunday.”