Honda's Shuhei Nakamoto believes the team's rivals are in a stronger position than winter testing has suggested, and does not expect his squad to run away with this weekend's MotoGP opener in Qatar.
Every day of preseason testing has ended with a Honda fastest, leading to predictions of a walkover by the factory team this year, but Nakamoto does not reckon Yamaha and Ducati are out of contention.
"The two factory Yamaha riders are very strong," he said. "They are achieving very fast lap times and seem very consistent, Jorge [Lorenzo] is able to keep his same low lap time on long runs, both here [at Losail] and in Sepang, and [Ben] Spies seems to be stronger than last season, so I expect them to be very competitive.
"In Sepang, Ducati weren't able to make a good lap time but here they are catching us. I again expect them to be competitive. For Suzuki, with only one rider I think it is difficult, bearing this in mind they have done a very good job so far."
Nakamoto reckons this year could even see an end to the dominance of the Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi quartet, who between them have won every race bar one over the past three seasons. He tipped Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Simoncelli and Spies as potential victors in 2011.
"I think Dovi, Simoncelli and Spies are also very fast at the moment, so perhaps they will be able to win," said Nakamoto. "It's not easy as the level of the top four is very high but it looks like there is more chance than before to have other winners outside of these."
While the works and Gresini Hondas have been consistent top-five runners in testing, Moto2 champion Toni Elias has regularly been at the back of the field on his return to the top level with LCR Honda. Nakamoto is confident that it is just a matter of getting a setup that suits Elias' style.
"Of course, we know Toni is a fast rider, he has proved this winning a MotoGP race in 2006 and also claiming the Moto2 title last year – there is no doubt in his talent," he said. "He has a particular riding style, and we are trying to help him to get better traction and temperature with the rear tire. In this test in Qatar he used a modified chassis and we hope this will help him find a good feeling soon."