The reigning MotoGP world champions filled seven of the top nine places on the timesheets in Malaysia, headed by VR46’s Luca Marini on last year’s proven GP22.

But unlike one year ago, the factory's new (GP23) machine was also immediately fast, with world champion Francesco Bagnaia just 0.080s behind Marini over a flying lap.

The Desmosedicis were equally impressive for race pace, with Marini predicting an all-Ducati top five if there had been a grand prix.

“If I look at the pace me, Martin, Pecco, Bez and also Enea were the fastest and maybe if there was a race the first five bikes were Ducati,” Marini said. “But we need to wait for a GP because it will be a completely different situation... But now Ducati is the best bike on the grid.

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“I remember that last year at the beginning of the season, I was saying that Ducati was not the best bike on the grid and they needed to come back during the season. And they did it. While this season we start as the best bike," Marini declared. “Our package is very fast, strong, competitive in all the situations, in all the tracks.”

Marini agreed that Bagnaia is the title favourite, highlighting that without a string of mistakes he would probably have wrapped up last year’s crown with three or four races to spare.

The #10 expects his fellow VR46 Academy rider to learn from those ‘strange’ mishaps and be even stronger in 2023.

“If we look back at the last season, Pecco was the only one with that speed [advantage],” Marini said.

“If he didn't crash in 3-4 races - which were strange crashes because he didn't need to push like this and crash in my opinion - he [would have] won the championship with a 3-4 race margin. Because he was very strong and I expect more or less the same this season.

“With more experience, for sure Pecco will manage more races [better this year], try not to do any mistakes, try to bring home points because it's very important for fighting for the championship.

“So yes, he is the favourite, but it’s not only him.”

Apart from the other Ducati riders, Marini is expecting a strong challenge from the likes of Honda’s six time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez and Yamaha duo Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.

“I think that at the beginning of the season Ducati will have a little bit more margin, but… also with the return of Marc at 100% with Honda, in just a few races they will be there fighting for the victory, fighting for the championship, because they need to do this,” Marini said.

“And also Yamaha now has the speed in the straights so they can also fight for the victory.”

The final pre-season test takes place at Portimao on Saturday and Sunday.