Suzuki's Andrea Iannone believes it will take at least until the start of the European MotoGP season to see the 'reality' in terms of the 2018 title contenders.

The Italian expects a repeat of last season, where many bikes and riders show flashes of brilliance during pre-season testing and the opening races in Qatar, Argentina and Texas.

But from then on, Iannone feels, the strongest will clearly emerge.

"I think after four or five races it will be possible to see very well the level," he said.

"The first part of the season is always different. Like last year; in testing many riders were fast, but after four or five races you saw the reality."

Last season saw three different winners in the opening four races, and five winners by round eight. But Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso then shared victories in the next nine races, setting up a Valencia title showdown.

In terms of what matters in pre-season testing, Iannone underlined that pace is always much more important than position on the timesheets.

"If I start last on the grid, but pole is only one tenth faster and my race pace is better, it's possible to win the race. If I start on pole, but my pace is two-three tenths slower than the top ten, I won't win for sure.

"Pace is always the best."

Iannone left the Sepang test 13th overall, but just 0.785s from a record-breaking lap by Jorge Lorenzo. Team-mate Alex Rins was 0.267s quicker than The Maniac, in sixth.

In terms of all-important race pace, Honda's reigning world champion Marc Marquez was the man to beat - despite only setting the eighth fastest lap time.

A race winner at Ducati, Iannone is looking to turn the page on a forgettable 2017. The Italian feels he and Suzuki have "a good chance" this season.

"We learned a lot from last year," he explained. "Now I have more experience with the bike and the team has more experience with me.

"The bike has changed a little, I'm sure in a good direction and I'm feeling positive.

"I'm confident, but for sure this is also the most competitive year of the championship.

"Many riders are very fast and the bikes - factory and satellite - are all very, very close.

"Many riders have a good opportunity to stay in front. It's a very close, close championship but we will try our best for sure."

The second official pre-season test takes place at Buriram, Thailand, from February 16-18.

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