Francesco Bagnaia may have stolen the rookie limelight with a stunning second fastest lap time at Sepang, but another MotoGP newcomer also made a big step relative to the 2018 tests.

Miguel Oliveira had been last of the race riders at both the Valencia and Jerez outings, but rebounded in style with a strong showing at Sepang.

The new Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider moved up the timesheets to 19th, closing the gap to the front from 2.6s at Jerez to 1.7s, despite the much longer Malaysian circuit.

However, it was Oliveira's performance relative to the other KTMs that pleased him most.

The Moto2 title runner-up had been 1.4s behind factory star Pol Espargaro at Jerez, but slashed the gap to just 0.2s at Sepang, when Johann Zarco took over as top KTM but was only a further tenth ahead.

"There's no comparison to last year's tests!" beamed Oliveira. "My kind of target was always looking to the best KTM and finally we finished three tenths from Zarco, who has three years in MotoGP.

"Pol has even more and is also in his third year with KTM and I have three tests. So finally it's a good step forward.

"I feel like I've been adapting to the bike and working really well with the team, who have given me a lot of inputs on where to improve.

"It's definitely a step forward during, I think, one of the most competitive days ever at Sepang with six riders under the old track record. That's definitely crazy but… I'm happy."

Oliveira admitted it was hard to say where he needs to improve, simply because he's never gone this fast before.

"As I said to the team, it's hard for me to point out something that will make me go faster because this is the fastest I've been and the best bike I've had so far [in my career].

"One thing is for sure, we couldn't extract the maximum out of the package we have. We couldn't match the best setting of the bike, with the best tyre and the best track conditions. So that's something that we will need to take in mind.

"Maybe my potential was to go a few tenths faster, which is good for the show, but we also know the potential is there with used tyres. We were quite competitive. We'll see now in Qatar, another track."

KTM brought many new parts to the Sepang test, some of which Oliveira said had already been influenced by feedback from Tech3, which joins the Austrian factory after 20 years with Yamaha.

"KTM did a good job on bringing some interesting parts to test here, which were slightly based on recommendations that our team gave to KTM to follow," he said. "Every part was a small step forward and it gave me more confidence with the bike to be able to go even faster and feel comfortable.

"Overall, they were small things that make a big difference at the end."

Team boss Herve Poncharal was especially impressed by the constant improvements made by Oliveira during the Shakedown and then Official test in Malaysia: "We can’t wait to be in Qatar, honestly, because if you look at Miguel for example; each single run, each single day has been better and better."

Nonetheless, Oliveira remained the slowest of the rookies, with Joan Mir (Suzuki, 15th) and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha, 16th) half-a-second ahead to sit between the Portuguese and Pramac Ducati's Bagnaia.

Meanwhile, Oliveira's team-mate Hafizh Syahrin had a less successful visit to his home circuit, finishing in 23rd place and last of the race riders. Syahrin's best time 0.8s behind Oliveira.

"We improved a lot [during test] and were better in turning and on the brakes," Syahrin said. "The lap time was significantly faster than before, but still a bit far from the top.

"On the last day, I felt really good with the bike, but my physical condition was not ideal. After four full days of riding, the muscles in my arms were too hard and I was lacking some power.

"To be honest, I am a bit disappointed about myself for this, as the bike was truly great for this last day and I couldn’t fully use it. Anyway, I’ll try to do my best during the Qatar test. We are on a positive way and for sure we can be better."

The Qatar test, which will see Oliveira and Syahrin on track with their new race livery for the first time, takes place from February 23-25.