Valentino Rossi believes Suzuki has managed the biggest gains over the winter following its display at the 2019 MotoGP opener in Qatar which put more riders between him and the podium following Yamaha’s ongoing problems.

While Rossi felt Yamaha’s performance is “more or less the same as 2018” with familiar issues around grip and rear traction under acceleration, the nine-time world champion pointed to Suzuki as the best improvers over the winter testing period.

Rossi finished the Qatar MotoGP in fifth place directly behind Alex Rins on the Suzuki, while his rookie team-mate Joan Mir battled in the front-running pack throughout the race before fading to eighth place.

In a tactical race preserving tyre life for a closing stages sprint, Rossi finished closer to race-winner Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati this year compared to last season in Qatar (0.600s in 2019 and 0.797s in 2018) but ended the race two places lower down with LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow in third place with Rins in fourth.

Rossi felt he was at an equal level to Crutchlow but the pace of Suzuki’s riders prevented him from challenging for the podium.

“I am happy as it was a good race but the problem is that we arrived behind Ducati, Honda, non-factory Honda and also behind Suzuki,” Rossi explained. “The problem is that Suzuki is strong here.

“Cal was very strong here last year. I was able to beat him in the fight I lost less time so more or less Cal is at the same level. But the bigger improvement is from the Suzukis.”

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While the 40-year-old accepted a higher grid position would have benefited his charge, having started down in 14th place after a poor qualifying with front tyre problems, he feels Yamaha’s familiar performance issues were the ultimate handicap.

“It is possible but if you start more in front it is easier,” he said. “At the end of the race I made more or less the same race as last year I just started more behind, but I was able to come back. The problem is that more or less the level of our performance is very similar to 2018 at this moment.

“I’m positively surprised because in the practice I didn’t have a very good feeling but last year I was stronger in practice.”

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