Valentino Rossi praised his Movistar Yamaha team after the Italian defied his grid position of 10th place to clinch a podium in the first MotoGP race of the season in Qatar.

Rossi had to settle for third behind team-mate Maverick Vinales and Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, but the 38-year-old was more than happy to commence the championship with another premier class rostrum after struggling throughout the winter tests.

The nine-time world champion revealed that an improved feeling with the front-end of his YZR-M1 paid dividends during the race at the Losail International Circuit, which was delayed slightly following a rain shower.

"To start the season with a podium is always great, and it is better than last year. I arrived from a difficult period with a very bad winter test, especially from November, from Valencia when I tried the new bike, I never felt good," said Rossi, who finished fourth in last year's race.

"I have to say a great thank you to Yamaha and all my team because in all this period I always feel great support and great trust in me. Also the situation was quite critical, so something changed from Thursday to Friday because on Thursday, we still have the same problems that I had during all the tests and it was very frustrating.

"But Friday was better and I started to improve, so from that moment I was quite optimistic to arrive in the first five. But Saturday we don't ride and the warm-up was very difficult but especially for me, I suffered very much with the high temperatures, the 10 degrees that we had more in the daytime, I felt the tyre after three corners," he added.

"These conditions in the race were a help for me and it was better. We improved the setting, especially to give me good stability for entry and also my team made a good modification for the front and I was stronger in braking."

Rossi felt he might have a chance to battle with Dovizioso for second place, but was happy to take third in - just 1.9s from victory -
rather than risk a costly mistake.

"I enjoyed very much and I saw Maverick for all the race and that never happened in all the tests! In the end I hoped that Dovi was more in trouble with the soft rear but I was also in trouble with the front, so if I arrived there and pushed and made a mistake, I would be very angry so for me this podium is very important."

He admitted that while he expected series rookie Johann Zarco to be strong on his debut on the satellite Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, he was surprised that the Frenchman made such an impact on his premier class bow, when he led the race and was pulling away at the front until he was caught out at turn 2.

"I expect Zarco to be in front, but not like this. Also it was my nightmare during the winter test because he was always in front! But also [Jonas] Folger was a surprise too," Rossi said.

"[Zarco] was very strong and I was curious about his performance with the MotoGP because we always worked with Franco Morbidelli last year and he said that he did something special with the Moto2, especially in the last 10 laps, and he always said to me keep attention because he will be fast also with the MotoGP. I think it was a mistake of experience in difficult conditions but anyway it remains a great performance.

"The bike that they have is maybe a bit more easy to ride and is at a very high level: Yamaha I think is a great bike for arriving in MotoGP because it is a bike that is a friend of the rider. After in the race, with the pressure, they need time and experience, but they did a great job."

Asked if he would be better off riding the 'old' 2016 Yamaha given the performance of the Tech 3 satellite riders, Rossi said: "I think at the beginning I feel better with the '16 [bike] but Yamaha is more happy if I use the '17, but I can also ride this bike and for the factory it is better if we have two bikes at more or less the same."

Cal Crutchlow - Career Profile by Crash_net



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