Valentino Rossi praised Ducati after he made a hugely encouraging debut on the all-new factory GP12 at the Sepang track in Malaysia today.
Rossi’s first ride on the radical new bike, which has been designed and built from scratch in three months, gave hope that the nine-times world champion will be a much more competitive force this year after a disastrous 2011.
The GP12 has undergone a major winter revamp to try and give Rossi the crucial front-end feel he was lacking last season and features a new aluminium twin spar chassis and major engine changes to alter centre of gravity and weight distribution.
Rossi set a best time of 2.02.392 to finish 0.735s behind day one pacesetter Jorge Lorenzo.
He said: “The distance is 0.7s compared to Lorenzo who made a very good lap and I am so happy because we fix a lot of problems that in all of the 2011 season we were not able to improve. In braking, corner entry and agility, the bike is a lot better and Ducati has done a great job in a short time.
"But it is only the first day and we have to work a lot. In acceleration the bike remains a bit too difficult and unstable and I think it is engine, electronics and a little bit the chassis. But we can be competitive I think.
"Now I can squeeze the front tyre and use the front. I have good temperature and the tyre works well, so it is a big step compared to last year.
"The position on the bike last year I never feel confident. With this one I am okay and I have enough room on the straight and a good position in the corner. Now we have to work but the first day is positive.”
Rossi said another huge positive today was that any set-up changes he made to the GP12 helped lower his lap time, which was rarely the case with the finicky GP11.
He said: “Another very positive thing today is we work on the bike and we improve and this is a miracle compared to last year
" Last year when we changed the bike it was the same or maybe worse. This time we work on the bike and I am 0.1 or 0.2s faster. Last year on the third lap you’d make a lap time and after 50 laps maybe a little bit worse.”
Asked whether he had expected such a positive start to the pre-season testing campaign, Rossi added: “Why not? But you never know because to make a new bike in three months you have a big question mark.
"First the bike is beautiful and I like if you see it compared to the old bike. It is a big step but especially it is a lot faster.”