Valentino Rossi hasn't hit the panic button yet, but it's clear that he's concerned with the development of his Ducati GP12 after the second preseason test session at Sepang.
Rossi ended the last of three days of testing 10th in the running order, 1.077 seconds behind leader Casey Stoner's Honda. The reduction of the gap between Rossi and the top was encouraging. But Rossi was discouraged by the presence of five satellite bikes - including Hector Barbera's Pramac Ducati - ahead of him on the time sheets and the return of front-end troubles to his bike.
"We tried a bunch of things in order to take a step forward from the first test, but unfortunately, we weren't able to do it and were actually worse," Rossi said. "It was harder for me to ride well compared to three weeks ago, especially my corner speed. It's true that this test was more difficult in terms of weather and track conditions, but it seemed to affect us more than the others. Honestly, I expected to do better than tenth.
"I think we have improved because today I had two or three moments where that with last year's bike, I would have crashed. But it is not enough. The character of the bike from this point of view remains very similar."
Rossi's complaints about understeer Thursday were troubling, especially considering he praised the front-end feel of the aluminum-framed GP12 in the first preseason test. Rossi was .726 of a second quicker during the first test Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at Sepang, which took place in better weather conditions. Only Stoner and Ben Spies slowed more during this test, but they still ended up first and eighth overall, respectively.
Last season Ducati's problems appeared to be a Gordian knot that could be untied simply by replacing a carbon-fiber frame with an aluminum chassis. Not so.
Rossi has no confidence in his front end, just like last season. But teammate Nicky Hayden, who ended up 11th overall at this test, had problems with corner exit and tire chatter. Hayden also lost the front end in Turn 1 and crashed but didn't re-injure his healing shoulder.
Riding styles often differ among teammates, which can cause different problems to sprout on team bikes. But the comprehensive and seemingly ever-shifting list of gremlins to exorcise on the GP12 indicates there is no quick fix on the horizon.
Rossi told British media Wednesday - before his front-end woes returned - that Ducati technical boss Filippo Preziosi confirmed upgraded parts and chassis developments to aid weight balance won't be available for the GP12 until possibly the Grand Prix of Catalunya in early June.
Meanwhile, the sands are running out of the preseason hourglass. All MotoGP bikes - prototypes and Claiming Rule Teams machines - will test March 23-25 at Jerez. Then it's time to pack the crates for the season opener April 8 at Qatar.