Maverick Vinales and Yamaha had to wait until the 17th round of last season to claim what would be the M1's only victory of the year.

But having qualified on pole position for this year's Qatar season opener, and set a formidable pace throughout pre-season testing, the Spaniard is one of the main favourites for victory on Sunday night at Losail.

Vinales expects a big group of riders to be in contention for the opening half of the race, when he will try to be 'smart' and focus on being ready for the end of the race.

"I think tomorrow it's going to be a group race, especially for the first 10 laps, because at this track it's always very special, a big group," he said. "So we are going to try to be very smart and be ready to fight at the end of the race."

Vinales took pole position with a time of 1m 53.546s, just a few tenths from Marc Marquez's FP2 lap record, despite cold and windy conditions that saw a spate of accidents.

"Yesterday I felt really good on the bike in the coldest conditions," he said. "But I didn't expect to go so fast today because it was windy and the track was very slippery, especially in the front. But we did a good time.

"We worked so hard in FP4. We found some lines and, especially in sector two, we improved quite a lot from yesterday. We are working on a good way. I think Yamaha understands my riding style really well. I can push the bike and that is the most important."

Vinales had cited acceleration as an area in need of improvement during the recent Qatar test. Gains have indeed been made, but not in the way Vinales expected.

"Actually we improved not really on the electronics, but on the mechanical grip of the bike. So I can use a little bit more power on the bike and it's bringing a little bit more speed," he explained.

"Anyway still I think our competitors are a little better than us in the electronics. But we've improved quite a lot from the test and that's really important."

Team-mate Valentino Rossi qualified just 14th on the grid, with rookie Fabio Quartararo the next best Yamaha after Vinales, in fifth.

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