Jorge Lorenzo spent his 31st birthday on track at Jerez, where the Ducati rider set the seventh fastest time in Friday practice for his home Spanish MotoGP.

Lorenzo made his grand prix debut at the same circuit in 2002, when he had to wait until the Saturday, the day of his 16th birthday, to be old enough to ride.

The Mallorcan has gone on to win 65 races and five world championships, but the switch to Ducati last season left him without a win for the first time since his rookie 2002 campaign.

Lorenzo returns to the scene of his debut Ducati rostrum having suffered an even worse start to 2018, but some new (or perhaps old, GP17) parts helped his challenge on Friday.

The #99 was just 0.008s behind team-mate and world championship leader Andrea Dovizioso and within half-a-second of fastest man Cal Crutchlow (Honda).

"It was a pity that in my last lap, one gear missed, so I lost the lap because of this mistake. So I was quicker and I could have been maybe top five," Lorenzo said.

"But anyway, the important thing today is the new parts that Ducati brought, that make my life more easy, so I'm confident and positive about that.

"And if tomorrow we can create a setting that helps the bike turn more in the second part of the corner until acceleration, then we can be much closer to the Honda guys, who are fastest."

Asked about the new parts, which appear to be focussed on the seating position and rear of his GP18, Lorenzo replied:

"The new parts worked well today to make the bike more smooth in the middle of the corner and acceleration. This gives me a little bit of happiness.

"These new parts are in the direction I want a little bit, which we lost a little bit with the new bike. The new[GP18] improved in some areas but got worse in stability, in smoothness on the exit of the corners.

"So let's see if tomorrow, with a new setup, we can make the bike turn in the middle of the corner, which is what we are missing the most now."

Lorenzo added that the enhanced stability is: "Not in braking, but in the middle of the corners and in the traction areas, where the bike is smoother. It moves much less, and this is good for here and I guess for the next tracks."

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But there were no technical changes on Dovizioso's machines.

"We didn't try any new parts. We have a clear situation in our side, and like last year, we know what we requested, what we would like to have, and what Ducati are working on," said the Italian.

"In the past, we learned that when you want to try too many things, it's the worst thing you can do most of the time. And it's not what we need now, and it wasn't what we needed last year, and our strategy worked."

Instead Dovizioso still describes the GP18 as offering a small step over last year's bike, with more needed.

"We did a small step, the change we did this winter, but we showed at the last two races it wasn't enough. It's always a mix of everything."

Another difference between the machines of Lorenzo and Dovizioso was more obvious; a lack of wings. While Lorenzo again used the 2018 design, despite reservations in winter testing and the opening Qatar weekend, Dovizioso removed them after Austin.

Commenting on the general mix of wing and non-wing fairings in use on Friday, Dovizioso said:

"My opinion, because I don't know the answer, is that is working in completely different ways – the Ducati, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha have completely different characteristics. So I think some bikes need something, and some other bikes need something different.

"Our bike is really good and in the braking and acceleration but not so good in the middle of the corner, and with the fairing in the middle of the corner, it depends on how the track is, but most of the time we are struggling and it becomes worse.

"I think we took the right decision to use the fairing [in Austin], because there were too many bumps, a lot of wind, it was a very difficult track, not a lot of grip, and that fairing, and normally the wings calm the bike a lot. And that positive side was bigger than the negative, so that's why we took that decision.

"And that's why here, in a track where normally everybody has to use the wing fairing, we don't use the fairing, because for the characteristic of our bike, if we are able to be fast without it, I think it's better."

Dovizioso was also asked about Marc Marquez naming him alongside Dani Pedrosa as the 'strongest' riders available, when the reigning champion was asked who he would like as a team-mate at Honda in 2019.

"I think he knows everything that Honda is doing. That's it, it's clear."

If Marc knows everything about Honda, does that mean Honda is talking to you?

"[Laughs]. For sure," said Dovizioso. "We are open, we spoke with some other companies. It's normal. It's not something we have to be scared to say. Every rider does it. Everybody does the same thing, but most of the riders don't say that it happens. But I don't have any problem to say that. I don't think it has to be a problem."

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