PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Valentino Rossi is still the biggest draw in MotoGP and after a strong showing last year the charismatic Italian's statement he is eyeing a 10th world title doesn't ring as hollow as it might have done ahead of last year's championship.
The 36-year-old, who has earned the nickname 'Il Dottore' (Doctor) according to his father Graziano because in Italy it is a title that demands respect, has not won the title since 2009 and experienced several fallow years, especially during an unhappy three-year spell at Ducati where he finished as low as seventh in 2011.
However, a change to Yamaha has re-energised the exuberant rider and last year's superb season, which included two victories and another 11 podium finishes saw him finish runner-up but 65 points adrift of Spaniard Marc Marquez, who is threatening to eclipse even his achievements after winning two successive titles.
Hence Rossi, who with 108 wins in all categories, has legendary compatriot Giacomo Agostini's overall race record win of 122 in his sights, is upbeat about his chances of securing a magical 10th title overall and eighth in the 500cc/MotoGP category beginning at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix this weekend.
"I will just be focused on delivering my best, on winning as many races as I can," said Rossi in February at the team's launch of their bike for the upcoming season.
"So... yes, I am also thinking to my tenth title."
Rossi, who is the oldest rider in the MotoGP championship, said he was looking to get a good start to the championship, unlike last year where both he and team-mate and two-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo struggled in the first half of the season while Marquez had the title virtually sewn up in winning 11 of the first 12 races -- the latter's Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa winning the other one.
"I am fully focused on a good start to the new season and I want to be immediately competitive." said Rossi, who is contracted to Yamaha till 2016.
"I am sure both of us will start the new season with a great desire to win."
Marquez, though, will be a formidable obstacle to overcome, as confirmed by an impressive series of testing in Sepang, Malaysia, in February.
Just 22-years-old, in 2013 he became the youngest rider to be crowned 500cc/MotoGP world champion and the first rookie since Kenny Roberts in 1978 to win the title.
Marquez is understandably wary of Rossi but even more so of Lorenzo. "You never know with Valentino," Marquez told MCN Sport.
"I didn't expect his level. I expected more like last year (2013) but he will be there because his motivation is there and Dani (Pedrosa) is always constant.
"Maybe he won't be better or worse than you but he will always be there and you need to pay attention with him. But I expect Jorge will be the strongest rival."
Lorenzo, who will be seeking a better start to last term where he failed to finish in Qatar, backed up Marquez' prediction he would be the big danger after finishing the testing session in Malysia second fastest.
"I am better this year because I have not had to undergo surgery in the off-season. Yamaha and I finished well last year, but while we've taken a step forward with the new updates to the bike, the favourite is still Honda and Marquez," the 27-year-old told MotoGP.com.
"Last year I was the rider with the most points from Germany to Valencia and finished the Championship very strongly. If we can start at the same level or even stronger, then we can definitely aspire to win the championship. "