Valentino Rossi marked his record 400th grand prix start by leading the opening laps at Phillip Island last weekend, before slipping back to eighth by the chequered flag.

The Doctor has now gone 44 races without a victory, equalling his longest barren run since joining the world championship in 1996. But Rossi's first priority will be a return to the podium, where he has now been absent since round three at Austin.

Given his narrow 0.462s defeat at the hands of Alex Rins in Texas, few would have expected such a lull would follow.

But if last year at Sepang is anything to go by Rossi stands a strong chance of being competitive this weekend, having led for 16 of the 20 laps in Malaysia, only to slide off as Marc Marquez closed in. 

However, the #46 feels it's difficult to make any predictions ahead of Friday practice.

"Last year at Sepang I was very strong," Rossi said. "We also tested there during the pre-season, but it‘s always difficult to understand where we stand before the race weekend starts.

"The last race at the Phillip Island circuit wasn‘t fantastic, but it was also not so bad, there were some positive points. The Sepang track is of course completely different and has very different conditions from what we experienced at the last round.

"This GP will be a lot more demanding physically for everybody, but we‘ll see. For sure we will do our best again.”

Team director Massimo Meregalli added: "Valentino is looking forward to getting things going in Sepang, because he was very strong there last year. He was battling for the win until he had a crash, so he‘s greatly motivated and [looking to] give the Malaysian fans something to cheer about.”

Rossi, who remains seventh in the world championship but now a reduced ten points from rookie Fabio Quartararo, was tenth fastest during February's pre-season test.

While Rossi has had little to celebrate since Austin, he was quick to congratulate countryman Lorenzo Dalla Porta on clinching the Moto3 title in Australia.

"A great congratulation to Dalla Porta," Rossi said. "We've see him growing up. He raced with us in the Sky team but unfortunately he had a shoulder injury so he could not give the maximum of his potential. But we worked well together. We have a good impression, so a great congratulation because I think that it's the best day of his life, winning the race and the championship."

Rossi added: "After Dovizioso in 2004, it's been a long long time [for an Italian champion in the junior class].

"We make a very good job with our [VR46] riders and Academy in Moto2, because we've won two championships, which is a great achievement.

"But unfortunately, it looks like we have a group of riders that are already too old for the Moto3! So they are ready for Moto2. But for me next year with Vietti we can fight.

"So it's been a long, long wait but Italy has won some championships in Moto2. This is important."