Updated with quotes from Marc Marquez. Photo: Marquez following Vinales at Phillip Island (Michelin).
The testing timesheets have long suggested Maverick Vinales will provide the biggest threat to reigning MotoGP champion Marc Marquez in 2017.
The new Yamaha rider has set the fastest lap time in every outing since leaving Suzuki, while Repsol Honda's Marquez looks the man to beat for consistency and race pace.
But on the final day of the second pre-season test in Australia, Vinales was annoyed to find Marquez join the track behind him during a race simulation.
"I don't know what to say. because sure I don't want to gain nothing, because there is nothing. But it's not normal. You are doing your race simulation. Someone pulls out. You cannot stop," said Vinales.
Nonetheless, with Marquez sticking with him, Vinales felt forced to abandon the run to avoid giving away too much information.
"After five laps that he was behind, finally I needed to abort the race simulation," Vinales said. "Anyway, the track is four something kilometres long. It's strange that he was there, where I was."
Asked if he thought Marquez was trying to get in his head, Vinales made clear the incident only motivated him to push even harder.
"I put new tyres again and I say, 'now I push'. I push 100%. I was doing a good rhythm, same as him. So I think... It's nice - this motivation, this fighting. It's so nice!" he smiled.
Vinales finished the test 0.294s ahead of Marquez. The Honda rider set the quickest lap on day one, then was second to Vinales on days two and three.
"I was thinking he would make a time attack at the end. Maybe he didn't need to," Vinales added. "Anyway, he's fast too. He has the speed. So it's nice to have [extra motivation] to always improve, be fast."
Responding that he "hopes" the championship battle will be a duel between them, the Silverstone 2016 winner was quick to highlight Marquez's strengths: "He's very strong. His braking points are quite amazing. He's really good there and in that area we have to improve."
Marquez confirmed he had followed Vinales at one stage today, and admitted it was interesting to study 'a different bike', but clearly didn't feel anything unusual had occurred.
"There was one run that I go out and I saw that he passed," said Marquez. "There was some gap. Then I was able to recover this gap. Then I follow him two laps and [it was] interesting, no, to see a different bike."
Quizzed on where Vinales was strong, Marquez revealed:
"His bike was so stable in the fast corners. Like corner one, corner eight. Our bike is more nervous but every year we come here we have the same problem in these corners. But we are working hard to fix. It [Yamaha] is a really stable bike but of course he [Vinales] was fast."
Triple MotoGP champion Marquez was celebrating his 24th birthday on Friday.
At 22, Vinales looks set to be the first title rival Marquez has faced who is younger than he is.
While Vinales said he would be happy to start the season tomorrow, he also has clear ideas where he and the M1 can improve by round one on March 26.
"The bike is quite good. Still we have to improve a little bit the electronics, a little bit on the braking points," he declared. "I have to improve too. I have to be better for the bike. More smooth. Sometimes I'm too aggressive and I move the bike, so I cannot be not as fast as I could be.
"I feel always confident. Even in Malaysia I was feeling confident. The speed is there. We need to still work in some areas to be at 100 percent, but I feel great in the team and that's another good thing."
The final pre-season test takes place in Qatar from March 10-12. It will be the last chance for Marquez and the rest of the field to halt Vinales' momentum before the first race, at the same circuit two weeks later.
By Peter McLaren