Valentino Rossi, dogged by tyre degradation problems for much of this season, was the fastest rider on track at the end of Sunday's Malaysian MotoGP.

But it wasn't quite enough to dislodge the Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso from third place, the Yamaha rider finishing a tantalising 0.354s from what would have been his first podium since Austin in April.

Nonetheless, Rossi was buoyed by being 'strong' throughout a technically and physically challenging Sepang encounter, including setting the fastest lap and new official race lap record on lap 3 of 20.

The last time Rossi set a fastest race lap was May of 2016, at Le Mans.

"I'm happy because it was anyway a good race for us. Especially considering our speed and our results in the previous races," began the Yamaha rider. "I want to try for the podium, because for sure the podium is another story, but unfortunately I was not able to beat Dovi.

"But the race was good, I did the fastest lap also, and a new lap record. I feel good with the bike, I ride well, for sure I lost a bit of time at the beginning from [sixth] on the grid.

"But I enjoyed, so it was a good weekend."

It was clearly a massive relief for Rossi not to once again be explaining why he had faded due to a lack of grip in the second half of a race.

Instead, he spent the last 13 laps constantly trying to lever third place away from Dovizioso, making several passes but ultimately lacking the straight-line speed to hold the position.

"Here was a lot better. I could ride well to the end," Rossi said of the rear grip.

"I was faster than Dovi in the long corners, but in braking it was difficult for me to overtake also because I always arrive in the braking zone a little bit too far behind.

"I passed him several times, but on acceleration in the straight he always re-passed me. I tried the maximum because for sure third and fourth place is very different, because to be on the podium is a lot better.

"But anyway it was a good race. This time for the tyre life we work well and I was strong to the last lap."

The 40-year-old added: "I'm very happy to be strong here because also physically it's for sure the hardest race of the season. So this is important.

"We still need to work because the bike is very good in qualifying, with new tyres we are very strong. After in the race we suffer a little bit more because we do the lap time on the edge of the tyre, so for sure we stress a bit more the tyres.

"And also we have a lack of top speed, so when you fight with the faster bikes it's very difficult."

Rossi's team-mate Maverick Vinales avoided such problems by bolting into the lead from the front row and staying clear to the chequered flag, for his second victory of the season.

"Maverick was very good because he go in the front at the beginning and when you are alone you can make your line and you can make the difference in the corners, where our bike is strong," said Rossi, who finished 5.9s behind Vinales, an average of 0.298s per lap.

"When you fight with bikes that are a lot faster in the straight, in the corner you cannot overtake. So it's difficult. So the best way is like Maverick did today!"

Rossi will head to the Valencia season finale still seventh in the world championship, but now just six points behind Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) and ten points from Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) after beating both at Sepang.

Vinales is third in the world championship.