Danilo Petrucci began his quest for a 2019 factory Ducati place by fighting in the lead group for much of Sunday's Qatar MotoGP season opener.

The Pramac rider lined-up on the front row of the grid with his sights set firmly on a podium finish. However he found the soft front tyre - which handled the 22-laps competently in testing - too weak during the extra intensity of a grand prix battle.

Nevertheless, Petrucci was able to pick off Dani Pedrosa and Johann Zarco in the closing stages to finish fifth.

The Italian was just one-second behind top satellite rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and, while official Ducati star Andrea Dovizioso won the race, team-mate Jorge Lorenzo qualified ninth and failed to finish after a brake problem.

Petrucci, riding the same GP18 as Dovizioso and Lorenzo, is pushing hard to convince Ducati they should take up their option on him for the factory team in 2019.

His best chance is to beat at least one of the factory riders during the early part of the season, while contracts are being negotiated, and the outcome of Sunday's race means Petrucci is 11 points up on Lorenzo.

"It's not a secret that I want to be in that place," he confirmed.

"Sincerely I am going my own way. I want to be a factory rider for sure and doing strong and fast races like this - or maybe something a little bit more, two positions or even four positions ahead could be perfect!

"But I am fighting very, very hard with the best riders of MotoGP of all time."

While Petrucci predicted that Dovizioso and Marc Marquez would be the riders to beat, he was surprised by Valentino Rossi in third.

"On one side, I'm happy because the first race is always full of pressure. On the other side, I'm a little bit disappointed," he said.

"I stayed on top for all the practice sessions. I knew that Marc and Dovi at the end have 1% more compared to me. Maybe Dovi some more experience, Márquez some more … I don't know, madness? Marc-ness?!

"But I said 'there is one more space on the podium and I can be there'. But I didn't calculate Rossi, he's always there. I still thought, 'I can stay there'. But maybe the bet on the soft tyre was too high.

"It worked well in the race simulation, but in the race I got overtaken a few times, because I had not so much turning power and especially on braking, I was not as strong as always. Everybody was going under me into the first corner.

"Pedrosa passed me at seven or eight laps to go and that was the moment the first three went away. I had to overtake Pedrosa and then Zarco and I lost Crutchlow and Rossi. Then it was like a bicycle race and I was in the middle of the pack.

"It's good to be disappointed for a fifth place, especially only three seconds from the top. But as I told you, my target was the podium maybe. But I'm OK, because I got eleven points more compared to last year.

"I think we can fight for something big this year. I want to be the best independent rider, and we are there. The fight will be with me, Crutchlow and Zarco I think.

"So we didn't lose, but we didn't win. I cannot say I'm happy, I cannot say I'm disappointed. I'd like to do another race now, but it's not possible!"


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