Valentino Rossi believes Ducati has taken a big step forward with its 2012 bike after an encouraging first day of testing at Sepang.
Following Ducati's tough 2011 season, team boss Vito Guareschi had said that he would be satisfied just to get the GP12 within a second of the pace in the Malaysian tests this week, but Rossi was 0.7sec off pacesetter Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha on day one, and felt significant improvements had been made to the bike.
"I'm happy because first impressions are important, and already in the first few laps, I could tell that I like the bike," said Rossi. "Ducati did a good job in a just a short time. The bike is beautiful, but more importantly, it's nice to ride.
"The riding position has improved a lot, and it's better on braking and corner entry. I can brake like I want to and take the lines that I like, and I feel comfortable in general.
"I was able to ride well and not make mistakes, and there's a reason for that. It means that the bike can be ridden. It's more agile in change of direction, and it wheelies much less."
Rossi warned that there was still plenty of ground to make up before Ducati could really be confident it was back on the pace.
"We're seven tenths back today and, of course, there's still a lot of work to do before we can win," he said. "We have to improve in some areas: acceleration, electronics, power delivery and setup.
"I'd say we'll be able to make a more accurate assessment at the end of the test, because let's remember, the bike is just 40 days old. To leave here a second back from the top would be OK, because we know that there's still much more to be done. But one of the best things from today is that the bike reacts well to changes. That enabled us to drop one or two tenths every outing, which means further progress should be possible."
Rossi's teammate Nicky Hayden was 10th quickest and also felt Ducati had made a step forward, but was hampered by the shoulder injury he sustained in training over the winter.
"Obviously, I wish my physical condition were better," said the American. "On one hand, I'm happy just to be here and not miss another test after missing the one in Valencia, but I wasn't able to do a lot of laps, and definitely no long stints.
"We know how important shoulders are on these bikes, and I didn't have the strength I would like. The bone itself was OK, but I had a lot of pain in the joint, although there was no problem with the ribs and very few problems with the wrist."