Valentino Rossi's new Movistar Yamaha team-mate Maverick Viñales has been hugely impressive during pre-season testing so far, but The Doctor believes Marc Marquez is still the man to beat.
Vinales bumped Repsol Honda rider Marquez back to second place as the young Spaniard shot to the head of the times on day two of the Phillip Island MotoGP test by more than four tenths from Marquez, setting his best lap in 1m 28.847s.
The 22-year-old also impressed after leading the way at Sepang, but nine-time world champion Rossi, who was eighth fastest on Thursday – eight tenths behind Viñales – believes reigning champion Marquez has the overall edge.
“In all these tests Marquez and Viñales are the faster, but Marquez more, especially in the pace. It looks like Viñales is very good with the new tyre. It looks like Marquez, with the race rhythm, is the man to beat,” Rossi said.
“About the atmosphere [in garage with Viñales] sincerely it's not a big difference. It's the same – different character. The important thing is on the track and Viñales is very fast and has a very good feeling with the bike. Sincerely it was not a surprise because everyone knows that he is fast. But he's been very fast from the beginning. It's difficult. I think that we can work well. We share the information to improve the bike. I think that he's very, very strong.”
Rossi admits he will have his hands full this season if he's to beat his young team-mate, but the Italian – who turned 38 on Thursday – pointed out that faced a similar situation last year with Jorge Lorenzo.
“He's very fast but he's very fast everywhere. He feels very good with the bike. For sure it will be hard to beat him but you know also last year with Lorenzo it was also difficult,” Rossi said. “We have to work and try to arrive ready for Qatar.”
Viñales followed Rossi for some laps on the opening day of the test on Wednesday but it wasn't an issue for The Doctor, who says he may return the favour this season.
“Yeah, possibly, why not? About following, everyone is very jealous, no? Because when you have a fast rider behind you always try not to push in front. But for sure there is some moment when one is faster than the other one. I'm sure we can help.”
After running second fastest on Wednesday, Rossi dropped down the time sheets on day two and revealed some modifications to his 2017 YZR-M1 had been a step in the wrong direction in the afternoon.
“We work on the new bike, the 2017 edition. From the outside it doesn't change a lot but the reality is that it's quite different. We still have some problems to understand the way to follow. It was a difficult day for us, especially in the afternoon. This morning was not so bad. We tried some different tyres and especially we try the pace. It was quite good,” he said.
“But this afternoon we had some important tests to try also long runs and we try to modify something in the bike but unfortunately it doesn't work so well and I wasn't fast enough. It looks like we follow the wrong direction so after the interview we'll go back to the box and try to understand tomorrow. We hope that we can improve.
“Tomorrow we go back and we'll try to follow another direction. The target is to try and improve the lap time and to try and make the long run to understand the pace.”
Rossi had little time to celebrate his 38th birthday with a party on Thursday but said having the chance to ride his M1 at Phillip Island was the perfect present.
“Already to be here in Phillip Island with the beautiful weather and to ride the M1 all the day. It's difficult always because it's a hard work but it's a great pleasure so it's a good gift.
“Usually when I have the test in Phillip Island it's always the date of my birthday. It looks like the track is free in this period. When we did Malaysia I passed the birthday at home but in Phillip Island it's like this. But it's OK. It's a good way to make the birthday,” Rossi said.
“If I am in Italy or in the past when I was in Italy, I did some very good party from my birthday, yes. It was good, a lot of people – we enjoy. But we are here, so no party. But it's OK, it's OK. It's a pleasure [to be here].”