As he prepares for a staggering 18th season in MotoGP, Valentino Rossi has already intimated that Yamaha's new M1 has 'high potential' to challenge at the front, and feels the talents of Maverick Viñales will only aid the bike's development.
Speaking at Movistar's stylish headquarters in Madrid after the factory Yamaha team launch, Rossi was keen to play down any potential rivalry in the making with his 22-year old team-mate, and instead sounded off confidently that the M1 will be much improved for 2017.
Rossi had the chance to put the new machine through its paces at tests in Valencia and Sepang, with the latter bearing signs of real progress, despite “no big change” to any specific component.
“For me, our bike is very good, very strong and with new tyres we are fast from the first lap,” said the Italian, 38 years old in February.
“This is good. Where we have to work is the second half of the race, because it looks like in the second half of the season we suffered - especially compared to the Honda that did a step - and we have to work there.
“[We have to] Try to save the tyres, and try to be more constant to the end. I think we have to work on the electronics a lot and try to understand if the new chassis is better from this point of view.
“We didn't know anything about the 2017 bike before Valencia, but from our rumours inside in Japan we expected a bigger change. So I think that everybody in the team, me for sure, were curious to see the bike.
“But at the end, it is the normal development by Yamaha. From the outside, the bike looks exactly the same, or just some small details.
“So in Valencia - first Valencia is always a difficult track for me personally and it is also a track where it is difficult to understand the potential of the bike. But in Malaysia we work more. It is true that there is no big change, but the potential is high.”
Predictably Rossi was pressed on his relationship with Viñales, but the Italian was more than complimentary when expressing mock surprise at the Catalan's speed in Valencia.
“You know, everybody on the track is always very hard [rivals] and especially with your team-mate,” continued the nine-time world champion.
“But afterwards can have the relationship out of the track and I think we can have a good relationship, yes.
“You know, from 2013 when I went back to Yamaha my relationship with Lorenzo was not so bad for all the years - then we have some problem at the end of 2015! So I think we [Rossi and Vinales] can have a good relationship and especially that we can work together to improve the bike.”
With rivals Viñales, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone all changing manufacturers over the offseason, Rossi and Marc Marquez are two of the established names to retain some continuity going into the new season.
Asked whether this was an advantage, Rossi said he believes it will be as competitive as ever, and his real focus lies on eradicating the mistakes that proved so costly to his world championship hopes in 2016.
“I think on paper it's not more easy or more hard. It depends on me and the team, we will try to arrive ready in Qatar and stay concentrated for all the season. This is very important, because last year I had a good speed.
“I was competitive in a lot of different tracks and different conditions, but I did some mistakes, some bad luck, so we have to try to make better. It will be very interesting this season because three top riders change bike.
“Especially Lorenzo is an historic move, after nine years with Yamaha he will change to the Ducati, so it will be very interesting to understand his level of performance. And also Vinales with the Yamaha and Iannone with the Suzuki. So I think it will be very interesting, but for sure not easy.”
And what about a repeat of nine different winners in one season? “Why not,” he added. “It's not impossible, I think. Nine different riders winning will be hard, because it is something very strange at this level, that is good for MotoGP. But I think a minimum of six riders can win a race this year.”