Valentino Rossi didn't take a single podium during the final nine rounds of last season, albeit sometimes falling while on course to do so, but has started this season with two rostrums in three races.

That has put the Monster Yamaha rider second in the world championship, just three points behind Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso.

After enduring a record losing streak from Assen 2017 to Phillip Island 2018, the pressure has been on Yamaha to turn the M1 into a consistent frontrunner once again.

While Maverick Vinales was optimistic during testing, Rossi remained cautious, saying that the factory was now working in the right direction but would need time to catch-up to Ducati and Honda.

But his strong start has prompted new title leader Andrea Dovizioso to say that Rossi will "for sure" fight for the world championship: "Valentino is in a better situation compared to last year, I don’t think his bike is too bad."

On paper, progress is clear: Rossi was seventh with 29 points at this time last season, compared with second and 51 points now. But where exactly has the M1 improved over last year?

"We tried to work on the electronics side to improve the acceleration because we have always problems to exit from the corner. We find also better balance compared to last year. The bike works better," said Rossi, who lost out on victory to Alex Rins by less than half-a-second at COTA on Sunday.

"We tried to work on the engine brake, on the acceleration, on the smoothness of the engine. Looks like that we need time because we have some areas where we have to improve, but looks like we start in the good way, we follow the right way.

"This is important. We have a good group in the box. The challenge is difficult for sure, but we improve."

An important gauge of Yamaha's progress could come next time at Jerez, a difficult event for the factory team over the past two seasons.

"In 2017 it was a disaster and in 2018 it was a bit better, but I suffer very much during all the practice, during all the weekend," Rossi confirmed. "I love the track, but looks like that in the last years is not easy for us.

"It’s very important for understand if we can be strong also there. The new asphalt may also be better [for us]."

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