When giving his first impressions on his Ducati return at Sepang in January, retired MotoGP champion Casey Stoner immediately highlighted the engine.

"Just grunt everywhere" grinned Stoner, adding that it was also well controlled.

But with top speed figures not available during testing, it was only at last weekend's season-opener that the true extent of Ducati's 2016 engine advantage became clear.

The factory filled six of the top seven places on the Qatar speed chart, including a new all-time MotoGP record of 351.2km/h (218.2mph) by Andrea Iannone during warm-up.

Such speed was graphically illustrated when Iannone and team-mate Andrea Dovizioso blasted past on either side of Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo along the main straight (pictured), to snatch the lead at the start of lap 2.

"It's very, very quick!" Stoner told Crash.net during his private test at the same Losail circuit on Monday. "It's something fantastic - we've got a very fast engine, very rideable with great torque. It's a complete package. That's something we didn't have the last time around at Ducati [when Stoner was racing]!

"What we've got to work on now is the other side of things. So knowing that we have a great engine, we don't have to focus so much on that. We can sort of tick that off and move on to other areas. This year the package in general is a little bit better, more rounded."

The top speed advantage is all the more satisfying for Stoner - now immersed in his new role as a Ducati ambassador and test rider - since many expected the factory's potent straight-line performance to be reined-in by the loss of technical concessions.

Instead, the factory gained 5km/h over its best speed during last year's Qatar event, when Honda riders filled the top three positions on the speed charts.

Ducati were previously allowed more engine changes, exemption from the engine development freeze and two litres more race fuel relative to main rivals Yamaha and Honda. However, the trio are now competing under exactly the same rules.

"Everyone thought the [engine] gap would be closed," Stoner confirmed. "People said it was because of more engines, the two litres of fuel and all the rest of it. Now Ducati have the same as everyone else and increased the gap. I love it when that sort of stuff happens!

"Ducati have obviously done a fantastic job, and people should respect them for that rather than thinking 'it's unfair to have a fast engine.' Respect the work of the engineers as much as the riders!"

Dovizioso finished second in Qatar, just 2.019s behind race winner Lorenzo. Iannone fell from the lead group on lap 6.

By Peter McLaren

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