Valentino Rossi may be preparing to start his 24th grand prix season, but even he isn't sure who looks strongest - or how much better his Yamaha will perform -heading into this weekend's Qatar season-opener.

"It's like the first day at school. It's always interesting to see all the guys in the paddock and look at the new bikes and colours," the nine time world champion said on Thursday.

"The rider line-up is unbelievable this year and especially all the different factory bikes are very strong. During the tests more-or-less everybody was fast. So we need to understand, because usually the race weekend is a bit different, but I expect all the factory riders at the top.

"And I hope to be there, I hope to be strong. Yamaha worked hard during the winter and we hope to be stronger than last year."

However, "It's difficult also for us to understand because in a full day of testing, different riders can work in different ways, using different tyres. Maybe we can have a better idea this weekend, but maybe it will take five or six races because also last year for example we were strong in some races but we suffered in others.

"Under some points of view our bike has improved, but I think that we still have something to improve for sure. It's true also that on the last day of the test there were a lot of Yamahas in the top seven, so I think we are strong with the new tyres, but after we need to see what happens in the race during 22 laps.

"At this moment I don’t know!

"But if I have to think now, maybe there are seven or eight riders ready for the podium! So it depends what happens during practice to make the small difference in the race."

Rossi finished a close third in Qatar last year, but - for the first time with Yamaha - didn't win a race all season.

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