If Valentino Rossi, who set the fifth fastest lap time at the Sepang MotoGP Test, is considering retirement, then surely the 20 riders behind him should be as well?

The light-hearted question from a journalist, at the end of an exhausting three days, prompted the Italian to burst into laughter.

"Yeah, it's true!" Rossi nodded.

"No, I'm happy about the fifth position and it's a positive test. Like this, I like. It's a big effort [in this heat] for sure, but I was competitive so it's positive."

But the Italian won't be basing his decision, either retirement or race on with a satellite Yamaha, on the outcome of just one test: "So now the situation looks like I have a bit more time, so I can decide well. I'm not in a hurry."

Rossi insists he will only continue his record-breaking career if he's sure he can be competitive. From the technical side, that means solving the tyre degradation issues he struggled with for much of 2019 and - like all the Yamahas - hoping for an improvement in top speed.

After Sepang, Rossi declared "the first impression is positive for the rear tyre [life] but on the straights we still suffer."

The nine-time world champion, who set a new official race lap record in last November's grand prix, set his best ever lap of the Sepang circuit with a 1m 58.541s on the final day of testing.

That was just 0.192s behind test leader and 2021 replacement Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) but on a day when the top ten were covered by a mere 0.387s.

"I feel quite good because we improve," Rossi said. "It's true that everybody is strong everybody improved the lap time and we are all very close.

"But the feeling is positive because it looks like we gained some grip. And it also looks like we improved the rear tyre degradation, which is our main issue. But it's just one track, so now we have to check in Qatar.

"The new bike is a bit different so we need to work to understand all the potential.

"The bike with new tyres is very good, also for the time attack. But we need to understand if also at the other tracks our pace is better at the end of the race. And work on the speed in the straight."

The fastest Yamaha of Rossi's team-mate Maverick Vinales was only ranked 13th (327.2km/h) on the final day top speed chart, which was headed by Ducati's Jack Miller on 333.3km/h. Rossi was 15th with 326.2km/h.

"We improved a little bit in the top speed but still the gap is quite big [because] the other bikes also made a step. Now we need to understand if we can keep the slipstream, but I don’t see a lot of difference," Rossi explained.

"We need to wait also for another track and need to see if we don’t lose a lot in the race."

But the Doctor doesn't expect the DNA of the Yamaha to change and, like the fellow inline four-cylinder Suzuki, knows the M1 is unlikely to ever beat the best of the V4s in a straight line.

"From what we understand, the inline four is a bit more easy to ride, but is a bit more slow [on the straights]," he said. "It's always difficult because the V4s are faster in the straight and to go faster in the straight is 'gratis'. You don’t have a big effort.

"Looks like our bike is a bit better in the corners, but to be faster in the corner you have always to risk, always to make more effort. So it's not easy.

"But this is our DNA. The Yamaha is like this and I think it will remain always like this, the four inline, so we have to do the maximum like this."

Nonetheless, some felt the enhanced grip from the new 2020 spec Michelin rear tyre favoured the corner-speed of the inline engines more than the V4s.

Meanwhile, Rossi and new-for-2020 crew chief David Munoz were working together for the third time at Sepang, following the Valencia and Jerez tests last year.

"I like a lot to work with David, the feeling is positive," he said. "Also the atmosphere in the team is very good. We have also some good [new] electronic guys that make some important work. About this [team] point of view, I'm very happy."

Team-mate Vinales was only 13th fastest but set the most impressive race simulation on the final day. Rossi, like Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli, did not do a long run on the final day.

 

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