Back in 2015, Valentino Rossi was accused of kicking out at Marc Marquez at Sepang, causing him to crash. In 2018, Marquez got revenge. This time it was the older rider who fell, in today’s Malaysian GP. And if Marquez wasn’t quite close enough to kick him, the cause was without doubt his relentless pressure, as the 20-lap race round the 5.543-km Sepang circuit right by the Kuala Lumpur International drew to its close.
Valentino (Movistar Yamaha) had led throughout; while Marquez (Repsol Honda) had to make his way into second place, after being hit with a six-place grid penalty, after qualifying on pole.
On the 13th lap, Marquez started to close a gap that had stretched to 1.2 seconds. And though he was only taking back a few tenths each lap, he was only just over half-a-second away as they started lap 17.
A capacity crowd of almost 104,000 sweltering fans was expecting a fine closing battle between the two giants of MotoGP, But they were denied. At the apex of the first corner, a slow left-hander, the back wheel of Rossi’s Yamaha lost grip, and he was down. He remounted, but just one up from last place.
“I was pushing on the limit,” said Marquez. “Earlier the tyres had got too hot and I had to cool them for a few laps. Then I pushed and I saw I could catch Valentino. I saw his mistake … it’s a pity, because it would have been an interesting last lap.”
The race was run in baking heat, although threatening clouds were moving in. The entire schedule had been moved forward by two hours, to avoid heavy rain forecast for later. Yesterday, track flooding had delayed qualifying by almost an hour and a half.
Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha) had been promoted to pole, and held second behind Rossi until displaced by Marquez on lap five. Rossi’s crash made his third podium of the year secure, even though he ceded what had again become second place to a charging Alex Rins’s Suzuki, a fourth podium for the young Spaniard as the Japanese manufacturer takes another step on the come-back trail. Rins also took fastest lap, but his Ecstar Suzuki team-mate Andrea Iannone didn’t complete the first lap, tumbling at the final hairpin trying to avoid a sliding Marquez.
Australian GP winner Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) had a blazing ride to fourth, after starting from 11th on the grid, caught out by wet qualifying after showing strong pace in dry practice.
His last victim was an unusually on-form Dani Pedrosa, the ultra-lightweight Repsol Honda rider enjoying hot conditions that helped him get sufficient temperature into his tyres.
They had outpaced Andrea Dovizioso on the top Ducati; with independent Angel Nieto Ducati rider Alvaro Bautista coming through to seventh, passing a tyre-troubled Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati) on the way. Miller’s team-mate Danilo Petrucci was ninth, and Monster Yamaha’s Hafizh Syahrin a massively popular tenth. Syahrin is the first Malaysian rider in the premier class.
With Marquez already champion, his score now up to 321, Rossi’s zero-score meant Dovizioso is safe second overall on 220. Rossi has 195, now in danger from Vinales on 193; Rins and Zarco are equal on 149.
Marquez’s win secured the Constructors title for Honda, and with Pedrosa for once getting good points, the Repsol Honda team is now almost safe for that prize, with Honda hoping to tie up the triple crown in Valencia in two weeks.
By Michael Scott