Valentino Rossi has his sights set on a top-three finish during his Yamaha MotoGP return in this weekend's Qatar season opener.

The Italian legend, seven times a champion in the premier-class and the record holder for race wins, often made success look effortless at Honda and then Yamaha from 2000-2010.

But the decision to start a new challenge at Ducati proved a step to far. Rossi has not won a race since leaving Yamaha, collecting just three podiums on the Desmosedici.

Yamaha meanwhile continued to win races - and last year's world title - with now double champion Jorge Lorenzo, the young Spaniard whose increasing opposition had been a major factor in Rossi's decision to leave in 2010.

The Ducati woes appear to have put such issues into context and the driving force behind Rossi's return was simply the chance to be back on competitive machinery. The 34-year-old also appears to be enjoying 'underdog' status - for the first time in his career it is the rider on the other side of the garage who is expected to beat him.

Lorenzo did just that for most of pre-season testing, but Rossi topped day two at the final rain-interrupted Jerez test and went on to finish second overall behind Cal Crutchlow (Tech 3 Yamaha). Lorenzo and last year's runner-up Dani Pedrosa (Honda) still look to be a step ahead in terms of consistent speed, with Rossi and Pedrosa's rookie team-mate Marc Marquez best of the rest.

Rossi might therefore find himself battling Marquez for the final podium spot on Sunday, but as races such as Laguna Seca 2008 proved, if Rossi can get near enough to upset the leading rider's rhythm, anything could happen.

"I'm very happy with the work done in Jerez and over the winter. I was fast and everything worked fine and we have a competitive bike to fight for the podium," said Rossi, who won on his most recent Yamaha Losail appearance in 2010.

"I believe that in Qatar will not be so easy; it is a track that is a little difficult for me, but I think I can defend myself and get a good result. I would like to get on the podium: that's my goal.

"After the testing I know I can be competitive in some tracks but also that I will have some problems in other tracks. The most important thing is that now I have a good feeling when I ride my M1 and this will help me at all tracks, including Qatar.

"Every year you get a little bit nervous at the beginning of the season. It's normal to feel like that; it's crucial to get some good points and not to make mistakes. I can't wait to start this 2013 season."

Team director Massimo Meregalli, who joined Yamaha after Rossi's 2010 departure, feels that Rossi's form has progressed during testing.

"Valentino has improved his feeling with the bike at each test," he said. "It's normal that it has taken him more time because for two years he has had another bike, but at Jerez he definitely proved he had the right feeling.

"The bike will continue to improve over the season but as it stands now it is a very competitive machine and we know it can achieve good results.

"The track is very suited to the characteristics of the M1, there is only one place which is difficult, the last corner is a very slow turn, first or second gear so we suffer a little there. We believe we can have the best start to the season here."

First free practice for the Losail night race takes place on Thursday evening.



Loading Comments...