Valentino Rossi's main target for the 2017 Yamaha is to improve the way it works the rear tyre, to try and counter recent gains by Honda.

Yamaha won five of the opening seven races courtesy of Rossi (two) and team-mate Jorge Lorenzo (three), but haven't been on the top step of the podium since. Meanwhile, Honda's Marc Marquez went on to wrap-up the world title with three rounds to spare.

So with Lorenzo leaving for Ducati, which direction does Rossi want to take with the development of next year's Yamaha?

"For me we have to work a little bit on the engine. For try to be a bit faster on the straight. But especially we have to work on the bike to make the tyre work in a better way, especially the rear," Rossi replied.

"It looks like in the second half of the season, especially Honda make a good step and are able to slow down less [during the race] compared to us. I think this is the main target for the new bike."

Rossi was speaking after setting the fifth fastest lap time on the opening day of the penultimate round in Malaysia, where an almost dry morning session on the new Sepang asphalt was followed by a fully wet start to FP2.

"We can ride in both conditions, dry and wet today," said Rossi. "This morning was quite dry, but not completely. The new surface is very good. Better for the bumps and grip. But it needs a lot of time to dry and here in Malaysia it rains more or less every day. The new asphalt is also very dark, so is also difficult to understand where it's wet.

"I was quite fast this morning and in the afternoon I felt quite good in the full wet, but then had some problems with the mixed conditions. So we hope for full dry or full wet."

Should the rain stay away, Rossi expects the previous lap record to be broken by several seconds.

"Already Marquez did a 2min 1.2 and I did '1.6, but there were three corners that were 'humid' this morning. So I think if the track is perfect we can go minimum two-seconds faster than last year," he declared.

"The track has a very good potential. The problem is... this [pointing to the rain outside]!

Rossi is 24 points ahead of Lorenzo and can effectively secure second in the world championship if he beats the Spaniard on Sunday.

By Peter McLaren

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Funny how Rossi rejected the 2016 bike before he even raced it. Might have been way ahead by now.