Valentino Rossi starts his 26th season as a motorcycle grand prix rider, but first at the Petronas Yamaha team at this weekend's Qatar MotoGP.

The Italian icon is looking to rebound from his worst ever season in the world championship, two races lost to Covid last season contributing to a lowly 15th in the classification.

Pre-season testing began with an gloomy 19th place in the opening Qatar outing, but The Doctor and his new crew delivered a much stronger performance at the second test, eventually settling in eleventh place, 0.8s from the leading time attack by Ducati's Jack Miller.

Race pace was harder to judge than usual after the final day of testing was wrecked by a sandstorm, but Rossi felt he was among a large group of riders with potential podium form.

"After testing in Qatar, I feel quite strong and the balance of the bike is good. I achieved my best-ever lap of the circuit, which was an important and positive thing to do," Rossi said.

"I think there are a lot of riders on different bikes that are also strong, but we’re definitely in the pack with them. Our race pace looks to be good, so I feel like we are ready to start the season in Qatar this weekend.

"There is a really good atmosphere in the team; we’ve worked well and in the right direction. I’m excited to start the season properly in a few days’ time."

The nine-time world champion was a race winner at Qatar in 2010 and 2015, finishing fifth in the most-recent 2019 Losail race.

Despite leaving the Factory Yamaha team, Rossi continues to have Factory-Spec machinery, while Petronas team-mate and reigning title runner-up Franco Morbidelli remains on the A-Spec bike.