Valentino Rossi is talking down his chances of clinging on to his world title on the eve of his debut test with Yamaha.
The reigning MotoGP champion has seen Max Biaggi beat his lap record at Sepang, Malaysia this week. Click here for more. Biaggi remains on a Honda RCV of the kind Rossi has walked away from.
Rossi said, in an interview released on Friday: " We need time to become competitive and win races.
But he added: " We will aim at being at the top level by mid-season and then try to win some Grands Prix. "
Rossi will ride his Yamaha for the first time on Saturday, January 24, in a three-day test at the same Malaysian circuit. The Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Moriwaki teams have just concluded their own three day tests at the circuit, so the weekend offers an ideal chance for an early comparison. But Rossi is claiming he will use the test just to get to know the bike, not to try to beat Honda’s latest times.
MCN’s Matthew Birt has been in Sepang all week and remains there this weekend. We’ll have the latest news and first pictures from the test this weekend. And we’ll add video of both test sessions early next week.
But until then, here’s Rossi’s latest interview in full.
Q: What has the waiting for your first ride on the Yamaha M1 been like?
A: It's been a long time since I rode a bike - more than two months. And everything's completely new, so it's almost starting from zero. I'll need one day just to get used to riding again, just to recalculate the speed and the braking. And the bike will feel different to what I have been used to.
Q: How big an advantage is it taking some of your old crew to join the Yamaha team?
A: It's a big, big advantage because understanding what changes we might make takes time and it takes time to work out settings and to understand everything about the new machine. The crew knows me very well because we've been together four years, and now we have the best team in the world.
Q: In the past you've taken one year to work out how to win a World Championship and then the next year to win it. Your crew chief Jerry Burgess has already said you can win it this year. What's your view?
A: It's not clear for me yet because I haven't ridden the bike. To win the Championship in the first year will be hard. We need time to become competitive and win races. We will aim at being at the top level by mid-season and then try to win some Grands Prix.
Q: Who will be the biggest threat this year?
A: Looking at last year, it's going to be Biaggi, Gibernau and also Hayden. Capirossi will be fast on the Ducati too.
Q: Have you set any targets for tomorrow's (Saturday) test, or for the entire three-day session?
A: The target for these three days is to understand the bike and to give as much information as possible to the engineers about any problems we might have.
Q: What are your impressions of the Yamaha M1 having raced against it for two seasons now?
A: In 2002 the Yamaha was at more or less the same level as the Honda, better in some ways, worse in others. But in the winter of last year between 2002 and 2003, Honda made a big step forward and it seemed as if Yamaha couldn't quite match that improvement.
Q: You like Sepang as a race track, but do you rate it as a test track? Will it give you a good overall impression of the Yamaha M1?
A: This is one of the best tracks in the world because it has all types of corners - from a tight hairpin to long fast turns. It's very wide with a good surface and one of the best test tracks.
Q: What made you sign with Yamaha for 2004 instead of any other factories?
A: First, because Yamaha is the second best factory in MotoGP at the moment. And also because when I talked to them I got a very good feeling about things.
Q: How competitive do you expect to be in the race at Welkom in April?
A: It depends on how the test programme goes and how quickly any modifications can be made. And after that we'll see. For sure, there won't be a victory, but we hope to be not too far away.
Q: If you don't win a race on the Yamaha M1 this year will it prove technology has become more important than the rider?
Q: Eddie Lawson was the last rider to successfully switch factories in the premier class. What was your motivation to switch factories?
A: There was nothing to prove. It was just that the motivation riding for Honda had finished, we won three World Championships in a row, we won at favourite tracks, at my least favourite tracks, and in all conditions – so what was left to do?
Q: What do your Italian fans think of your move to Yamaha?
A: They are confident.
Q: Do you prefer to be the underdog - and then surprise people by winning?
A: I don't mind being the favourite. I have been in the past, but the problem was if I lost a Grand Prix. If I finished second it was because I rode badly or made big mistakes, but that wasn't always the reason. If you come second or third in MotoGP at this level, it's possible, it's normal.
Q: Do you still miss the 500cc two-strokes?
A: Always, yes.
A: Riding a 500 was always so much fun, but these bikes are very good now with so much power.
Q: How do you feel about tomorrow?
A: I'm very excited, I really am. I've been waiting for this for two months.
Tomorrow is not a job, I'm really excited about it.
Discuss this story on the MotoGP discussion board with this link. Follow Rossi’s debut throughout the weekend on motorcyclenews.com and watch video from Sepang next week.