The bar was set high, but he hasn't disappointed. On his return to Superbike, Marco Melandri has already been on the podium twice. Now the Italian aims for something bigger, despite Rea and the Kawasaki appearing to be unbeatable, and Davies forced to play catch-up.
How do you sum up the start of the championship?
"I think it's been a positive start, I'm pleased with the results I've achieved up until now. Doing more would have been difficult, or rather being at Rea's level should I say (he smiles)”.
2017 marks your comeback. How much has Superbike changed?
“The environment is similar to how it what when I was last here. The bar has definitely been raised on track and the new regulation further increases the gap between the bikes. Lately though, we're seeing some changes, we've seen that the Yamaha is clearly growing”.
At Chang you were twice beaten by Sykes. You were very disappointed.
“Unfortunately I suffered from some braking issues. In the final stages I was really struggling. I'd have liked to fight back against Tom, through both turn, but it would have only been a pointless risk, taken in vain”.
Is the Panigale missing top speed compared to the Kawasaki?
“I don't think there's any one particular aspect that makes the difference, like speed. Rather, we need to take a step forward across all areas. We've grown over the winter, but then so has Rea”.
What is the ZX-10R's secret weapon?
“Johnny is the right rider for the Kawasaki. The bike is very competitive, this allows him to manage the race like no-one else. Then the ZX-10R also has a little more than the others”.
“I can't say (he smiles)”.
Is it possible to beat Rea?
“Sure, but it's not as simple as it might seem. I think he and Kawasaki have really grown over the winter and this makes it all the more complicated”.
Now you head to Europe. Will this mark the start of the fight back?
“Aragon is Chaz' track, in the past he's shown to be very fast, but I'm sure that Rea will be up there to. We need to take a step forward, making the most of some new elements”.
“We'll see them over the race weekend”.
Do you consider yourself Davies' ally or main rival?
“We're allies, because we're racing for the same team and want to achieve important results for Ducati, trying to close the gap to Kawasaki. But at the same time we're rivals too, as we each have our own path to follow to achieve our goal”.
You've been on the podium twice, now you're just missing a win. Will Imola be the ideal track?
“I'd prefer not to wait for Imola, the sooner it comes the better. Let's say that I have an account to settle with that track, having never reached the podium there. I'm sorry about that, as the track suits my characteristics”.
The MotoGP starts next week, will you be watching?
“If my daughter allows it, then sure. It will be an exciting season, there have been various changes and we'll see some great racing”.
It's been a few years since an Italian won in the intermediate class. Morbidelli seems to be a favourite, would you agree?
“I like him as a rider, he's tough. He just needs the win to unblock himself. Once he achieves that he'll be even more self aware”.
Who's the favourite in MotoGP?
“Vinales has surprised everyone, he's really smart. I've met him a few times at MX tracks and he's a completely different rider to the others. He's that new face that the championship needed”.
How do you see the Losail podium shaping up?
“It's difficult to say, I think Bautista will be one of the surprises”.
Both you and Lorenzo have had to adapt to the Ducati? Will we see him on the podium in Qatar?
“Looking at last week's times, he might be missing something in terms of pace. Unfortunately it's not easy to adapt quickly to a new bike after having ridden the Yamaha for several years”.
Rossi suffered during testing. Do you think he's starting to feel his age?
“Time ticks on for everyone. To be honest, I prefer not to pass judgement on Valentino, only the guys in the garage with him can do that, because they know all the dynamics”.