Valentino Rossi is aiming to defy the march of time as he embarks on a career-defining 2014 season.
He is fitter and faster than he has been for three years, but will it be enough for Rossi to race on for what will be a remarkable 16th season in MotoGP in 2015?
Rossi wants the answer by mid-year, as will his paymasters at Yamaha with the rider market in full swing by the Dutch TT in June.
The seven-time World Champion has been in sparkling preseason form and enthusiastically talking of his desire for another two-year deal in MotoGP — if he is fast enough to fight for podiums.
In 2013, Rossi was the owner of eight fourth-place finishes and a winner of just one race.
“I am in better shape and this preseason is more positive than last year,” said Rossi, who returned to Yamaha in 2013 after two dismal seasons with Ducati.
“I was strong in both Sepang tests and also fast at the Phillip Island test. And now I feel better with the M1, which we have improved, and I can ride more at the limit.
“My target is to try and be more competitive than last year which I know is difficult because the level is very high. The first three riders are very strong.”
It is amazing that Rossi feels motivated, at 35 and with 80 career MotoGP wins, to again measure himself against Marc Marquez (age 21), Jorge Lorenzo (26) and Dani Pedrosa (28).
But if he is to convince himself to race on in 2015, Rossi also knows that at least a couple wins, not just podiums, will be the age-defying tonic he needs.
“I always said I want to continue for another two-year contract and, if I am competitive, I will continue,” Rossi said.
“Last year, I knew I needed time to come back to a good level, and at one point in the season I wasn’t so bad. But at the end of the season I wasn’t able to reduce the gap to the top guys, so I was worried for this.
“Now it looks like I am in good shape and I am working well with my team, so the priority is to try and continue.”
Since he broke his leg in May 2010 during practice for the Italian GP at Mugello, just two wins have come Rossi’s way.
But Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli feels that Rossi can add to his winning record this season, and Sunday’s race in Qatar is one of the primary targets for a Rossi resurgence.
And for the first time since his return to Yamaha, there are some tweaks on Rossi’s M1 to suit his style
“It really looks like he is more motivated. He really wants it and the motivation he was looking for seems to be there,” Meregalli said.
“We want to see him on the podium more often. It is too early to judge but after the preseason tests I have seen his behavior is completely different to the same time last year.
“He could do one fast lap last year and when he was really pushing he couldn’t quite get it. Now he has always been there with both new and used tires and he is different.
“I see him strong at the races in Qatar, Assen and Mugello. He is still fast even at 35 against these young kids. He has to be in a good shape and the bike working well, but for me, he still has the potential to win two to three races.”
Rossi last won in Qatar in 2010 at the opening race of the season in which he conceded his crown as Yamaha’s No. 1 rider to the fast and ambitious Lorenzo, who is again Rossi’s teammate.Jorge Lorenzo, MotoGP, Qatar, Valentino Rossi