Runner-up in the last two races of 2018, then a fierce pace during pre-season tests at Sepang and Qatar means Alex Rins and Suzuki have their sights set on MotoGP race wins in 2019.

A title contender in Moto3 and Moto2, Rins assumes the role of Suzuki team leader for his third year in the premier-class after Andrea Iannone was replaced as team-mate by rookie Joan Mir.

The biggest question mark for Suzuki heading into the new season, which starts in Qatar this weekend, is the loss of technical concessions caused by last year's haul of nine podiums.

When Suzuki previously lost concessions, courtesy of the GSX-RR's only win and four further rostrums by Maverick Vinales in 2016, the factory made a mistake with engine character and were stuck with the design during a podium-less 2017.

But the consistent form shown in testing suggests Suzuki won't make the same mistake twice, with Rins "very happy about how the bike has improved.

"Of course we still need to refine some things, and we still have some margins for development, in MotoGP the racing and development side is a never-ending challenge and we will work hard in all the sessions during every race weekend.

"Last year we ended the season in good shape, with many podiums, and the feeling that we can really go for the big prize!

"This is the objective that we’ve set for this season, to further improve our competitiveness and consistently put ourselves around the top of the sheets, trying to get one - or more - victories.”

Team manager Davide Brivio said: "We are excited to start the race weekend in order to fully understand and assess our winter work, and our real level, as we know very well that the only true test will be on Sunday with the first race.

"Alex Rins has improved a lot in the last two years, not only in his riding style but also in his approach to the races and his mental strength. He’s now able to showcase all his talent, and we believe he can continue the positive path he took at the end of last season."

Mir has also had a positive winter, making top rookie appearances on his way to finishing the pre-season as second best of the four newcomers behind Fabio Quartararo.

“I’m really looking forward to starting the season because after the good testing that we’ve done I think we are ready to start," said Mir, the 2017 Moto3 world champion who then spent only a single year in Moto2.

"My biggest expectation for this 2019 championship is to continue learning as much as possible and to constantly reduce my gap to the leaders. Learning and improving will be my absolute priority and it’s also a good way to get closer to the top guys.

"It will be very interesting to race with those more experienced riders. The Losail circuit is a layout where I feel confident and the GSX-RR has been improved upon consistently during the winter, in the test we did two weeks ago I had a lot of fun on the bike and found myself able to improve and be competitive.

"This gives me high hopes for a positive weekend in Qatar.”

"Joan Mir had a good winter preparation too and he is ready to start his first MotoGP season," Brivio added. "He should not be under pressure, as the priority must be to learn and enjoy.

"He is certainly a talented rider, and he has already proven his skills in the winter tests, so we have to give him our best as a team to bring out his potential and see what we can achieve together. The objective is simply to improve consistently race by race.”

Mir is the only 2019 rookie riding for a factory team.

Free practice begins on Friday evening in Qatar.

 

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