Runner-up and within touching distance of a debut MotoGP victory in both of last year's Qatar races, Johann Zarco returns for the 2022 season-opener with his sights set on ending a podium drought that began after Catalunya.

The Pramac Ducati rider, seen developing the factory's new front ride-height system in testing, is hoping the Desmosedsici's top speed advantage will again help his podium cause.

"All good coming to Qatar," he said. "The biggest change I would say is we didn’t have the test before so the track I think will be quite dirty and it will take a bit of time to get really fast and we will improve during the weekend. That's the tricky thing.

"Plus the race and practice is two hours earlier. So just need to check the temperature and choice of tyres for the race. We will not have time to really push a soft tyre or medium tyre to test what is the best for the race, so we will have to use the experience of last year.

"But I think here I will have the advantage of the bike, as last year, and compared to Indonesia [test] this will help to be in the top three – I hope!"

With eight Ducatis on this year's grid, there will be plenty of other riders benefitting from the straight-line performance of the Italian machine. But it's two inline four-cylinder riders, last year's race winner Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) and Alex Rins (Suzuki) that have caught Zarco's eye.

"I think Fabio [will be good here], he likes the track, he won last year, so he will be competitive," Zarco said of the reigning world champion. "And I expect also Rins. Rins was almost on the podium last year and from the tests he did in Malaysia and Indonesia I think he can repeat very good consistency here.

"I really hope the advantage of our engine will 'block' them! Anyway, we have 11-13 riders covered by two tenths, so I cannot predict too much."

At 31, Zarco is the younger than only Andrea Dovizioso and Aleix Espargaro, yet is starting only his sixth season in the premier-class.

"If we just think about MotoGP experience, I still feel very fresh," he said. "It's my sixth season now but Marc Marquez has been in MotoGP since 2013, so he has more experience but I'm older.

"I feel fresh because I didn't get the result I want, so when I'm training and preparing I feel I need to get even more prepared to reach what I want. So I'm okay [with my age], but clearly Martin [team-mate, 24] has more future than me!"

Fifth after briefly leading last year's world championship after the Qatar openers, and now with eleven podiums under his belt, Zarco knows it's time to "prove" what he can do.

"I felt also last year that I had everything I needed, but it was more like a surprise. Now we know I'm capable of it, so I need to prove it. Confirm this," he said.

"I think the top three in last year's championship will be in the top five again this year, now that Marc will be there for the whole season.

"But as I said, it's too difficult to predict [a favourite] because it's really demanding when you give your best and, I repeat, two tenths cover the top ten. This makes the situation pretty hard.

"I hope to be one of those at the top."

Free practice in Qatar takes place on Friday afternoon and evening.