Doha, March 10: Marc Marquez may be short of fitness but the Spaniard looks set to be in the mix for victory at the Qatar Grand Prix this weekend.
Marquez struggled with shoulder problems in 2018 and needed surgery at the end of last season to correct a long-standing problem.
The reigning world champion admitted he was still not at his peak heading into the new campaign, though it really did not show during his time on the track on Saturday (March 9).
Marquez was third in FP1 but the Repsol Honda star led the standings in the next two sessions to guarantee him a top-12 place on the grid.
Securing a 53rd pole of his career was a step too far, though, as Maverick Vinales produced two outstanding laps in qualifying to ensure he starts the race from the front.
It was a bolt out of the blue from Vinales after mixed fortunes during the four practice sessions in Doha, but he feels ready to challenge Marquez – who qualified third – in Sunday's race.
"I felt great for one lap straight away," said the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. "I think the way I'm riding is the best Maverick in the two seasons .
"But we need to improve, in the last corner we are pretty slow and we have two opponents who make the best top speeds .
"Tomorrow, it's race time, I think we have really good rhythm, I can hit the 54 seconds at the end of the race, so let's see what we can do. I'm pretty sure we can do well."
The two Spaniards will not have it all their own way, though, with Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso occupying a spot on the front row.
The first battle awaits
The poleman @mvkoficial12 is ready
Are you? pic.twitter.com/M9jMJkceqw— MotoGP™ (@MotoGP) March 9, 2019
And the Italian hopes the cold and windy conditions change to give him a chance of starting the season with a victory.
"I'm really happy because we came here with not a good feeling after a strange test," said Dovizioso.
"We have improved step-by-step, practice-by-practice, small things but the key was to stay calm when the speed wasn't there.
"We came through FP4 and qualifying with a better feeling and the lap time came. I'm so happy about that, so happy to start in the first row but we have to see the conditions tomorrow.
"Here in the desert every day is a different story, but you know that we are very close to the fastest riders."