Boris Mihailovic’s take on the #MalaysianGP

It was a race that could well have been scripted. Of course it was not, but the way it panned out the championship is still alive and will be decided at the final round in Valencia.

It was a wet race – something the 2017 season seems to have thrown up with squelching regularity. Global warming is apparently having an impact on MotoGP – who knew? If this keeps up, and it probably will, look for riders who have highly-developed wet-weather riding abilities to figure strongly in future seasons.

#MalaysianGP - Image by AJRN
#MalaysianGP – Image by AJRN

Casual observers of MotoGP might have said it was a boring race, processional and lacking the high-speed cut-and-thrust served up the previous round at Phillip Island. MotoGP tragics like myself instead beheld a masterful display of chess with handlebars, as the two title contenders, Dovizioso and Marquez did their sums and their very, very best not to crash on the often-treacherous Malaysian bitumen.


Qualifying

Marquez is apparently not a fan of Sepang, and he didn’t shine in qualifying, ending up seventh on the grid while his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, somehow jammed himself onto pole. Beside him sat the re-christened Joe-Han Zarco, and Dovi completed the front row.

Rossi had looked strong in practice and qualifying, and had secured fourth, ahead of his team-mate Vinales and his sworn enemy Jorge Lorenzo, who had never really sparkled at Sepang.

Sepang MotoGP 2017 Qualifying Results

  1. PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 1’59.212
  2. ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 0.017
  3. DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team Ducati 0.024
  4. ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 0.286
  5. VINALES Maverick 25 SPA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 0.326
  6. LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA Ducati Team Ducati 0.410
  7. MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 0.482
  8. RINS Alex 42 SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki 0.780
  9. IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki 0.907
  10. CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR LCR Honda Honda 0.969
  11. MILLER Jack 43 AUS EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 1.114
  12. ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 1.558
  13. PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA Octo Pramac Racing Ducati 2’00.351 Q1
  14. REDDING Scott 45 GBR Octo Pramac Racing Ducati 2’00.451 Q1
  15. BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati 2’00.469 Q1
  16. SMITH Bradley 38 GBR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 2’00.718 Q1
  17. BAZ Loris 76 FRA Reale Avintia Racing Ducati 2’01.050 Q1
  18. LOWES Sam 22 GBR Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia 2’01.207 Q1
  19. RABAT Tito 53 SPA EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 2’01.228 Q1
  20. BARBERA Hector 8 SPA Reale Avintia Racing Ducati 2’01.413 Q1
  21. BRAHAM Karel 17 CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati 2’01.570 Q1
  22. VAN DER MARK Michael 60 NDL Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 2’02.376 Q1
MotoGP Qualifying - Sepang - Front Row
MotoGP Qualifying – Sepang – Front Row Sepang
PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 1’59.212
ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 0.017
DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team Ducati 0.024

The Race

The holeshot was Marc’s, but only until he ran wide and allowed Zarco to hurtle into the lead, followed by a resurgent and very determined Lorenzo.

#MalaysianGP Race Start - Image by AJRN
#MalaysianGP Race Start – Image by AJRN

And so began the chess game.

Marquez and Pedrosa leading Lorenzo and Dovizioso - Image By AJRN
Marquez and Pedrosa leading Lorenzo and Dovizioso – Image By AJRN

Coming into Lap 6, Zarco led by more than a second. Behind him, Lorenzo kept Dovi at bay, and Marquez had been nudged back into fourth.

Johann Zarco leads Sepang MotoGP 2017 - Image by AJRNRossi, who showed promise in practice and qualifying had been devoured in the opening corners and was flubbing about back in eighth after seeing what 11th looked like in the opening laps.

Valentino Rossi – Sepang MotoGP 2017 – Image by AJRN

Zarco had chosen to go out on a soft-soft combination of wet tyres, and was the only rider of any consequence to do so. Michael Van Der Mark might also have picked soft-soft, but since his only job was not to destroy Folger’s bike, no-one really cared what hoops he was on.

Michelin Wet - Sepang MotoGP 2017
Michelin Wet – Sepang MotoGP 2017

Zarco’s tactic, or hope, was the track would dry out halfway through the race, just as the soft-soft tyres were going off, he would duck back into the pit, grab his slick-shod number two bike and sail onto the top step of the podium.

As it turned out, it didn’t really stop raining for the whole race, and actually began to rain harder a few laps from the end.

Jorge Lorenzo - Sepang MotoGP 2017 - Image by AJRN
Jorge Lorenzo – Sepang MotoGP 2017 – Image by AJRN

So Lorenzo caught Zarco, passed him and once again found himself in the lead.

Dovi hovered haplessly behind Jorge, never more than a second adrift, but never less than half-a-second, and while the team-mates swapped fastest laps for a few circuits, Dovi ever so slowly began to catch Jorge.

Jorge Lorenzo - Sepang MotoGP 2017 - Image by AJRN
Jorge Lorenzo – Sepang MotoGP 2017 – Image by AJRN

In a distant third place, Zarco was cursing his tyre choice and behind him, Marquez must have been trying to see which of the two factory Ducatis was leading. If Dovi won, then the championship would be decided at Valencia. If it was Lorenzo, then Marquez would be crowned World Champion at Sepang, and no-one would care Lorenzo had won his first race on a Ducati.

Andrea Dovizioso took his time in chasing down his teammate and it took a big slide from Lorenzo for the Italian to sweep past the Spanish #99
Andrea Dovizioso took his time in chasing down his teammate and it took a big slide from Lorenzo for the Italian to sweep past the Spanish #99

As the race edged towards the end, the commentators immediately began to speculate about team orders. Would Ducati order Lorenzo to let Dovi through and keep the championship alive? Would Lorenzo obey if he was told to do just that? After all, this was the Spartan’s big chance to shine and win his first race for his new team. He had declared earlier he would help Dovisoso win the championship if he could, but I’m convinced he didn’t mean he’d do that if he was actually winning the race. It’s one thing to promise to help your team-mate if you’re in third or fourth and you can get in the way of Marquez to Dovi’s benefit. It’s a whole other thing if you’re winning your first race and you have to let your team-mate through to keep the championship alive.

Andrea Dovizioso celebrated a brilliant tactical victory with a fine stand-up mono across the line at Sepang
Andrea Dovizioso celebrated a brilliant tactical victory with a fine stand-up mono across the line at Sepang

A message from his team did appear on Lorenzo’s dash a few laps from the end of the race, suggesting he try Map 8. Conspiracy theorists speculate this was the signal. He was to let Dovi through.

And so he did, but only because he ballsed it up on Turn 15 with five laps to go, leaving a centimetre of his red knee-slider painted on the track trying not to crash, and Dovi sailed past. No, Lorenzo did not let him past intentionally. It was just the notorious Turn 15 and the wet weather. For sure.

Luigi Dall’Igna - Ducati Corse General Manager - With Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso - Sepang MotoGP 2017
Luigi Dall’Igna – Ducati Corse General Manager – With Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso – Sepang MotoGP 2017

After that, it was just Jorge half-heartedly pursuing his team-mate to the line as Dovi kept his cool and his bike upright. He actually rode a masterful and very controlled race in quite difficult conditions. He also no doubt rues his performance at P.I., which cost him a lot of points and quite possibly the world title.

The podium: Lorenzo, Dovizioso & Zarco - Image By AJRN
The podium: Lorenzo, Dovizioso & Zarco – Image By AJRN

But as usual, the fat lady has not yet sung. Marquez might well win next week. But then again, he might not.

That’s just one of the reasons I love this sport so much.

Sepang MotoGP 2017 Race Results

  1. DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 25 Ducati Team Ducati 44’51.497
  2. LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 20 Ducati Team Ducati 0.743
  3. ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 16 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 9.738
  4. MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 13 Repsol Honda Team Honda 17.763
  5. PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 11 Repsol Honda Team Honda 29.144
  6. PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 10 Octo Pramac Racing Ducati 30.380
  7. ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 9 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 30.769
  8. MILLER Jack 43 AUS 8 EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 35.238
  9. VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 7 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 38.053
  10. ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA 6 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 39.847
  11. BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA 5 Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati 42.559
  12. SMITH Bradley 38 GBR 4 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 44.602
  13. REDDING Scott 45 GBR 3 Octo Pramac Racing Ducati 48.696
  14. BARBERA Hector 8 SPA 2 Reale Avintia Racing Ducati 50.058
  15. CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 1 LCR Honda Honda 50.705
  16. VAN DER MARK Michael 60 NDL 0 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 56.397
  17. IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 0 Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki 58.391
  18. RABAT Tito 53 SPA 0 EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 1’25.571
  19. LOWES Sam 22 GBR 0 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia 11 laps
  20. ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE 0 Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati 12 laps
  21. BAZ Loris 76 FRA 0 Reale Avintia Racing Ducati 15 laps
  22. RINS Alex 42 SPA 0 Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki MotoGP
Sepang MotoGP 2017 Race Results DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 25 Ducati Team Ducati 44'51.497 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 20 Ducati Team Ducati 0.743 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 16 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 9.738

Sepang MotoGP 2017 Race Results
DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 25 Ducati Team Ducati 44’51.497
LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 20 Ducati Team Ducati 0.743
ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 16 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 9.738

MotoGP World Championship Points Standings

  1. Marc MARQUEZ Honda SPA 282
  2. Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati ITA 261
  3. Maverick VIÑALES Yamaha SPA 226
  4. Valentino ROSSI Yamaha ITA 197
  5. Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 185
  6. Johann ZARCO Yamaha FRA 154
  7. Jorge LORENZO Ducati SPA 137
  8. Danilo PETRUCCI Ducati ITA 121
  9. Cal CRUTCHLOW Honda GBR 104
  10. Jonas FOLGER Yamaha GER 84
  11. Alvaro BAUTISTA Ducati SPA 75
  12. Jack MILLER Honda AUS 73
  13. Scott REDDING Ducati GBR 64
  14. Aleix ESPARGARO Aprilia SPA 62
  15. Andrea IANNONE Suzuki ITA 60
  16. Pol ESPARGARO KTM SPA 55
  17. Alex RINS Suzuki SPA 46
  18. Loris BAZ Ducati FRA 45
  19. Karel ABRAHAM Ducati CZE 30
  20. Tito RABAT Honda SPA 29
  21. Hector BARBERA Ducati SPA 27
  22. Bradley SMITH KTM GBR 24
  23. Michele PIRRO Ducati ITA 18
  24. Mika KALLIO KTM FIN 11
  25. Sam LOWES Aprilia GBR 5
Andrea Dovizioso - Image by AJRN
Andrea Dovizioso – Image by AJRN