After blitzing the MotoGP field at Mugello, Jorge Lorenzo reckons he might be "even better" in Barcelona - but does comparing his long-run pace to his rivals really point towards another comfortable win?
The Spaniard’s issues with the Ducati bike that held him back for more than a year seem to have vanished in the snap of a finger as he stunned the field with a dominant win at Mugello, aided by a change to the Desmosedici's fuel tank.
And while doubts remained on whether the Italian Grand Prix was a one-off, his Barcelona showing so far suggests that Lorenzo has indeed returned to his status as a proper MotoGP star.
In all of his post-FP1 runs, he managed to set a sub-1m40s laptime, which has been the indicator of race-winning pace over the weekend.
He first shone in FP2, when he completed a 12-lap run with a best time of 1m39.8s. But he did that on a new soft rear tyre, and so whether that was possible to do over the race distance at a track where tyre preservation is key remained a question.
But when he continued in FP3 with a soft rear and set a time of 1m39.7s on his 23rd lap in the tyre, Lorenzo left little doubt over whether he can reproduce his Mugello performance.
That prompted all the major players to run on softs in FP4 - even the Hondas that traditionally tend to pick harder compounds and has been experimenting with the hard rear on Friday.
Not many succeeded – Marquez showed promise on a fresher soft in FP3 but when he was on used rubber in the afternoon, the best he could do was a 40.3s. Even then, that was something neither Dani Pedrosa nor Cal Crutchlow managed.
No wonder all three Hondas ended up also running on hard rears during FP4, with Marquez going below 1m40s albeit with brand new tyres.
Doing a 1m39s laptime was not an issue for Marquez in any of the four practices and he achieved it with soft, medium and hard compounds.
But he was always on new tyres, and he never went below 40 with a rear tyre that was more than 10 laps old, putting a question mark on whether he’ll be able to keep up with Lorenzo for the entire race.
Regardless, he still looks set to lead Honda’s efforts and, considering his Saturday heroics, which included a miraculous save at the end of FP4 and then nearly taking pole out of Q1, who’s to say he won’t pull off something extraordinary on race day.
Lorenzo might look the strongest Ducati but Andrea Dovizioso is poised to be one of his closest challengers.
Yet the gap between the teammates is clear – after experimenting with hard and medium on Friday, Dovizioso focused on softs on Saturday and while the speed is there, he was another rider to struggle to keep up as the tyres become worn.
Both Pramac riders Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller celebrated their confirmed 2019 rides with a low-key weekend so far, but local hero Tito Rabat has impressed and could very well end up as the best non-factory Ducati in the race.
Lorenzo might get the better of Marquez and Dovizioso in terms of preserving the fastest tyre over race distance, but the biggest challenge in the aspect might come from Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales.
Vinales has been one of the strongest riders in the late stages of races this year, but his constant issues at the start always meant he had to recover from a lowly position.
Vinales explained prior to the weekend why this had happened in Mugello, clarifying that he didn’t have enough temperature in the front tyre at the start.
On Friday, he was confident of progress: “I think we have taken a step forward with the bike. My problem was only in the race as I didn't have enough grip to fight at the start.
“It looks like we've found what the issue was so we need to work on that and improve it. The bike has improved a lot.”
At the same time, Vinales had a slow start to all of his runs in the practices, and always only improved a few laps later.
The other Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco are unlikely to use soft tyres for the race.
The Italian, like everyone else, tried it in FP4 but quickly decided against it and reverted to the medium at the end.
Rossi put in a 39.9s in both FP2 and FP3, but he remains a bit of a wildcard as he had barely any mileage on used tyres.
Zarco, despite enduring a tumultuous weekend so far with two crashes, was eighth in qualifying, said he felt good with the bike.
The Frenchman rendered his entire Saturday useless as he only used soft rears and then declared his choice for the race will be between the medium and hard.
As he is yet to turn a lap with the hard and he was one of the first riders to go below 1m40s in FP1 with the medium, he will likely pick that.
Over at Suzuki, Andrea Iannone had a very strong Saturday, topping FP4 and, perhaps more importantly, showing very impressive pace in FP3.
However, like in many cases this year, Iannone and Suzuki could struggle to stay in contention over a race distance.
From pole position, Lorenzo, the strongest starter in MotoGP, will likely take the lead, which could be a key factor in him pulling off a carbon copy victory of Mugello.
But he could face challenges at both ends of the race, with Marquez and Dovizioso likely trying to hold him up from the front row, and the likes of Vinales potentially hunting him down in the closing stages.