Those expecting Marco Melandri to be ring rusty after an unwanted 18-month spell on the sidelines of competitive racing were in for a surprise at a post-season test in Jerez in late November.

There, the quiet, contemplative Italian was unrecognisable from the downbeat, often grumpy, figure that had appeared so unwilling to engage with Aprilia's nascent MotoGP project in 2015.

In his brief time aboard Ducati's factor backed Panigale Melandri has displayed speed in abundance, suggesting the British national anthem may not always be the song of choice during World Superbike podium ceremonies in 2017.

And alongside posting the fourth fastest Superbike time on the second day at Jerez - half a second slower than team-mate Davies - Melandri appeared relaxed, at home, and spoke with quiet confidence, dispelling any notion that his time away from racing dulled that competitive instinct.

"For sure I want to fight for a win," he said on the final, rain-interrupted day of testing. "I didn't want to come back to just be a number. I know it will be not easy, but I trust a lot in what I have. I think never happened before for me to have this kind of good package, so I'm feeling really good."

In Davies' hands the package Melandri speaks of was more than a match for anything the World Superbike grid had to offer as this season drew to a close, the Welshman conquering all before him, winning seven of the last eight races.

And in the Panigale, Melandri has quickly found a bike suited to his particular riding attributes, with the engine character complimenting his smooth, flowing style. The two dry days in Jerez confirmed his first impressions at a previous test in Aragon: the bike and team have real potential for 2017.

"I really like the bike, especially for my riding style, for my character, it's usually very good. For me this is very important because when I have not such a good feeling it's difficult for me to have a good performance.

"But like that, I'm feeling comfortable on the bike. I have fun and I'm not fighting it, so it makes me think very positive on the new season.

"The engine character is very good. It makes my life easier. I like the torque. It's very nice. Very low revs. You can find a good torque. For sure if you come from four cylinders it's difficult because you expect a lot of revs, but this engine is like a diesel so you have to change gears very quickly.

"I think Ducati is the most complete electronics I have found. [But] It's also difficult to set up. Especially for me, I have electronic guy, he started in Aragon with me and with Ducati. So he has to learn the system. It will take a little bit of time but for sure I think the bike, the potential is very high."

While Melandri's times were impressive, can a rider harbor championship ambitions after such prolonged time on the sidelines? He is reluctant to speak of his brief return to MotoGP close to two years ago, instead stating, "2015 was just like, forget it, like a nightmare. [It was] Not real life."

And rather than viewing his time off as a real negative, the Italian saw the second half of '15 and the entirety of this year as a chance to build motivation, maintain fitness and refocus in the hope that an opportunity back into the championship he so nearly won in 2012 would eventually come.

"I think when you miss something you like you understand even better what you really like," he says.

"So as a rider you know that at the end of the career must arrive before later, but for me, for some other people choice was difficult to decide for myself. Still I believe I can get good results. So for sure I have even higher motivation than before.

"Racing for me [is what I missed most]. The adrenaline is something that I really need. So it was missing, and for that I was not seeing every race. When I was off I just tried to see what the life can offer me outside of the motorcycles."

And what did 'normal' life have to offer? "I started with my sister to work on a shop online. We opened just one month ago. Luckily I don't have to work there anymore," he smiles.

It is believed Melandri had to contribute his own money to line up alongside Davies in Bologna's World Superbike effort. And although he acknowledges the strengths of the championship's current top-three of Davies, Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, it is that determination to end a decorated career - that brought a 250cc world championship, five MotoGP wins and 19 more in World Superbike - positively that has him returning for more.

"For sure, the Kawasaki guys are much faster for sure than me in the lap times. But race distance I think Chaz was very strong. I don't really know Johnny because for me he was racing for a championship and not for winning races. Only Qatar at the end he was pretty strong. But also Chaz in braking, it's unbelievable. I think the strongest I've ever seen.

"But what I think is they have two arms, two legs, the same as me. So I can be the same. I think in my career I won a lot of races but I won nothing. Just one championship and I lost maybe three or four. So I think I have the opportunity to end my career in a good way."

In Melandri's eyes the past two years count for little. "My feeling is I'm starting from the last race in 2014." Viewing his return as such, and you may well come to the conclusion that the one-time golden boy of Italian racing still has plenty to offer.



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