MotoGP's 2019 rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo admits his rivals "looked at me differently" after taking his debut pole at Jerez last year.
Quartararo guided his customer 'B-spec' Petronas SRT Yamaha to six poles and seven podiums in a debut season which has earned him graduation to Yamaha's works team alongside Maverick Vinales in 2021.
It marks a sensational 18 months for the French rider was a surprise pick for SRT, having only recently won his first grand prix in the Moto2 class in Barcelona following a disappointing three-season run in the junior MotoGP ranks when the decision was announced at Silverstone in 2018.
After a low-key showing in winter testing in Valencia, Jerez and Malaysia, Quartararo was second overall at the final pre-season test in Qatar and by the fourth round at Jerez had secured his first pole, with a maiden podium coming three races later in Barcelona.
"I remember well when I showed up as a rookie in the Malaysian tests and I wasn't even very strong to be honest," Quartararo told Sky Sports Italy.
"Then it was all a crescendo of interest.
"When I took pole at Jerez I realized that they [the rest of the grid] looked at me differently; maybe there they started to consider me as one who could win a race, not just go for points."
Quartararo would narrowly miss out on debut wins at Misano and in Thailand after race-long duels with world champion Marc Marquez, who admitted after their Misano battle that he considered Quartararo one of his main title threats in 2020.
A strong pre-season this year gave further credence to Marquez's claims, with Quartararo believing he would have been in the mix in Qatar had the race not been cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
"After the Qatar tests, I was really satisfied; it was the time I felt better on the Yamaha M1," said Quartararo, who will have machine parity with the works Yamaha riders in 2020.
"We had six days with the new bike and with an engine that was not 100% new.
"So, I thought that at the start of the world championship, where we all start with a fresh engine, I could have been a protagonist.
"My pace was incredible and I could [have fought] for the podium."
Commenting on replacing Rossi in 2021, Quartararo says it was a "dream" to race with him on track last year and hopes the veteran nine-times world champion extends his career beyond this season.
"It was a dream for me to be able to have a year in MotoGP with him and to be able to see a lap of his telemetry," he added.
"I remember when we found ourselves close in FP1 in Qatar, it was emotional.
"I hope he stays in MotoGP."
Rossi has begun talks with Yamaha and the Petronas SRT squad over a move to the satellite squad for next year, meaning he would effectively swap places with Quartararo, while Maverick Vinales signed a new two-year deal at the factory Yamaha team in January.