Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso is a clear favourite for the MotoGP season opener in Qatar despite only qualifying fifth, according to his rivals.
Dovizioso, who has finished second in Qatar for three years straight, topped FP1, FP2 and FP4 in the lead-up to qualifying, and held provisional pole after the first runs in Q2.
He failed to improve on his second run, however, and was shuffled down to fifth - almost four tenths slower than poleman Johann Zarco - by the time the shoot-out ended.
But while Sunday's race is expected to be closely-fought, especially due to the slipstream effect at the Losail International Circuit, several frontrunning riders have named Dovizioso as favourite.
“Dovi looks the favourite, surely,” said LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow, who qualified a place higher than the Italian in fourth. “Even though he's fifth, he surely looks the favourite.
“By the end of the first lap, he can pass two on the first straight. Easy.”
Pramac Ducati's Danilo Petrucci, who made up the front row behind Zarco and Marc Marquez, said that pair were likely to be part of a lead group in the race that could also feature Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa.
However, he claimed Dovizioso may have the edge over all of them.
“Dovizioso I think is the stronger one because he is very able to manage the tyres until the end,” Petrucci said. “I think Dovi has got a little bit more in this moment in managing the tyre.”
Marquez, meanwhile, reckoned Dovizioso and Petrucci were “a little bit faster” than everyone in race pace simulations in FP4, and said: “I think the fastest guy is Andrea, he has a very good pace and he is favourite for the race.”
Asked about his favourite status after qualifying, Dovizioso was adamant that he did not know what pace his rivals would be capable of in the race.
“I had a good feeling in free practice four, we confirm a good speed - but it's very difficult to understand the pace of the competitors for the 22 laps,” he said.
“And in qualifying unfortunately I didn't make a really good laptime, in the second tyre I slowed down because a lot of riders slowed down, and I didn't prepare in the perfect way the last lap.
“But anyway the second row is okay, we go in the race with a good feeling, but we can't know how [the race] will be tomorrow, also with the condition.
"Today it was very windy, it's not so easy to ride the bike like this.”
Additional reporting by Oriol Puigdemont and Khodr Rawi