Valentino Rossi starts his 24th season of grand prix racing this weekend in Qatar.

All but four of those campaigns have been in the premier-class, where the Italian has claimed seven championship titles and holds the all-time win record of 89 victories.

But the last time Rossi stood on the top step of the podium was 20-months ago at Assen, The Doctor suffering his first winless season as a Yamaha rider in 2018, when team-mate Maverick Vinales managed a solitary victory at Phillip Island.

Management and technical changes have been implemented to try and make the M1 into a regular winner once again, but Rossi is more cautious than Vinales about the extent of progress so far made in solving the wheelspin and subsequent rear-tyre consumption problems.

The Italian agrees the 2019 machine is a step forward and very fast over a single lap, as illustrated by all four Yamahas being in the top seven at the recent Qatar test, but remains concerned about race pace.

Nonetheless, Rossi has confidence that the right steps are finally being taken to take the fight to Honda and Ducati.

"Finally, the first GP of the season is about to start! The pre-season tests were very important. Both in Sepang and in Qatar we've taken steps forward and we can say that we've done positive tests. We still have to improve a lot, but the road we're on is the right one," declared Rossi, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday.

"This Friday we'll begin the first 2019 race weekend and we'll be able to understand many things better. We'll have time to improve the bike during the free practice sessions and we'll do everything to get ready for the race.

"I feel good, I have trained well this winter, and I'm ready to start this new season with my team and all the Yamaha staff. We will do our best!"

Rossi was third and just 0.797s from victory in Qatar last season.

Oldest riders to have won 500cc/MotoGP races

  1. Fergus Anderson: 44 years and 237 days old (SPA 1953)
  2. Jack Findlay: 42 years and 85 days old (AUT 1977)
  3. Leslie Graham: 41 years and 21 days old (SPA 1952)

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