Steamy Malaysia Ready For Showdown
The 2019 Shell Malaysian Grand Prix is underway with Marc Marquez aiming to surpass Jorge Lorenzo’s 2010 18-race point tally. Only nine points are required to see Marquez go ahead and take away the record and also the smile from his fellow teammate who continues to struggle on board the Honda MotoGP machine. Sepang, is a circuit that favours many riders, though can force others to feel the ultimate pressure of the sun, humidity and various other hungry competitors. The Triple Crown is still wide open and the goal is simple, to ensure that the Repsol Honda sweep in and take it!
MM93: “We enjoyed a great victory in Australia as me, the Repsol Honda Team and the bike are working very well together. Now we arrive at the last race of the triple, but it’s not time to stop and relax. Sepang is another track where I think Yamaha will be fast, as will Ducati, but the target is of course to try and fight for victory again. We will see how the weekend goes and adapt as we need to.” To anyone watching MotoGP, Marquez form has been marvellous and you have to give him the credit he deserves by finishing pretty much first or second nearly all season long. He is the dynamite rider who blasts off and really pushes limits to find how far he can go. It is incredible to witness trackside and even on television when you watch how he rides a MotoGP bike.
In comparison, Lorenzo is still on the back foot and will be for some time. He is not in an ideal situation whatsoever and it will take great courage in order for him to obtain a good result here in Malaysia. JL99: “Sepang is a track where I have had good success in the past. Earlier this year I was not able to test in Sepang because of my training injury, but my team were there testing so already we have some ideas of what to do with the bike. Compared to Australia, the circuit in Malaysia should suit me more and I think we will be able to get back to where we were in Motegi. We will see how the weekend progresses there.” There are loads of questions surrounding Lorenzo…. Does he need to retire? Is he struggling purely because of a lack of track time? Does he not like the Honda? Is he just finishing up a contract to look for a ride elsewhere? Being at a top team, a multiple World Champion and a Spanish icon does not mean he should be finishing last or even off the pace. Something has to change drastically otherwise Lorenzo risks being left behind.
In terms of progression, Andrea Dovizioso feels as though Ducati are lacking and the gap is so significant that he is not happy about it at all. DesmoDovi is open about his feelings, where the Ducati team must improve and feels as though 2019 has been up and down. There has been a certain lack of consistency which is not ideal for his way of riding nor his personality as he is quite hard on himself. AD04 “It is difficult to think how we can stop Marc because this season he’s done something even better than in the past. I think in Malaysia it isn’t the best situation for us in the afternoon when it’s hot. We’ve never had a good race in the dry. We have to be better in that situation”. You can hear the frustration in Dovi’s voice, his demeanour and how much he wants to be at the front battling and swapping paint with other riders. If there is any indication, Dovi will be fighting, it was his performance in practice in particular the second session where he finished second. This will provide him with a boost of happiness to try for a strong qualifying position and overall race.
Fabio Quartararo is a trooper and his desire to win a race before 2019 concludes is burning bright! FQ20: “It will be a very important weekend for us, there’s a lot of expectation for the team at their home Grand Prix, so we will give our best and try to make them proud.” Regardless of being in pain, Quartararo topped FP1 and was setting his pace early with a message to the grid, that he will not stop charging forward. We really admire the attitude of the young French rider because he has quality strength of character and passion.
FQ20: “Australia was a tough weekend and my mission since then has been to let my ankle recover as much as possible. Fortunately, it was not further hurt in my crash on Sunday. I want to be as fit as possible as my target is to be at 100% for Malaysia. It’s a high target, but it’s important to set my sights high and have that mindset. Obviously, we tested in Sepang in the pre-season, and that’s a big benefit in my first year. We want to be fast as it’s the home race and a great place to reward the team and PETRONAS for all their support. We did a pretty good job at that test at Sepang and we return with a lot more experience under our belt. For sure, it will be really special with all the Malaysian fans so we want to reward everyone as best we can.”
On Friday, conditions were hot and this was certainly testing the tyres, mentality and focus. There were riders experiencing increased chatter, a lack of stability and a constant reminder that if you lapse in focus, you risk entering the kitty litter or worse dropping the bike. We witnessed on turn four riders sticking out their legs and knees a lot more than usual to brake fast and carry that speed through the corners. Regardless of his ankle injury, Quartararo was exceptional in FP2 with a lap time that sent shockwaves through the paddock. His media debrief was jammed packed full of local and international media wanting to know what it felt like to be at the top considering the target focus he has as Marquez struggled with pace plus the announcement of two A-Spec Yamaha YZR-M1 machines for 2020. In an era where you can rise and fall so quickly, both riders at Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team have performed at a level that is sensational for a team that has not even had one year under its belts. You have to clap with a smile because it shows that underdogs can outperform the masters! His lap time for those who are interested to know was a 1’58.576 with DesmoDovi +0.630 away. Following him was Valentino Rossi with a good time, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller, Alexis Espargaro and Cal Crutchlow. It was a good mix of high performing athletes!????
Razlan Razali - Team Principal: “It has been an incredible first season for PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team in MotoGP. We are very grateful to PETRONAS for their commitment and Yamaha for their faith in us to deliver. Both Franco and Fabio have contributed enormously to our success this year and having both riders on equal machinery will enable us to achieve even better things. We are particularly proud to be able to make this announcement in Malaysia, the home of both PETRONAS and the team.”
Lin Jarvis, Managing Director, Yamaha Motor Racing Srl: “We are very happy to confirm that we have reached agreement here in Sepang for the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team to field two A-spec YZR-M1 bikes for the 2020 season. The performances of both Franco and Fabio have been excellent this year and this shows by the achievements of the riders and team in the various championship rankings they have achieved thus far both individually and as a team. The support of PETRONAS to this new team has been crucial in permitting the team to make a further step forward for 2020 with two A-spec bikes. Yamaha commit to providing the team and the riders our best possible support to enable them to make further progress in 2020 with race wins as well as hopefully achieving the best Independent rider and Team crowns.”
A few words from a select number of riders after the end of day one to get your appetites ready for an all-out battle on Sunday!
FQ20: “I will not say the bike is completely different. It is different. The braking reference of February and now is totally different. I brake twenty metres further. It is normal. In February, it was the first test of 2019 and now we have had seventeen gp’s, two in a row, we are really strong. All of the riders are strong. I think it is good to be back and improved by one second above. It is only Friday so for sure in the qualifying if it is good weather, we will need to break the lap time again. Really happy to do it. We want to do in the qualifying and fight for the race. Phillip Island was really tough, the weekend did not go like we expected, two crashes. We arrive here with not a lot of confidence from the race before but in the morning, we make first and this afternoon also. The confidence is back. The biggest gain… The braking, in the test, already in the corners I was quite fast. Today in the braking, we know corner 1,4,9, 14 and 15, there is a lot of braking and long braking. There is where I make the lap time but also the corner speed and exit, it is there in general. The spec for 2020, we will race with spec A, it is good news. Really pleased. We deserve it. We make good races and I want to thank Yamaha, Petronas and the team. I think we need to be smooth with this bike, there is a balance you know between really smooth and aggressive. You have to find the right balance. I think this bike… every time I ride this bike it is much harder to make the lap time. It is not easy. To make this really fast, it is difficult. You need to be more aggressive and really smooth. It is not easy.” Regardless of his injury at the island, Quartararo feels as though he is focused no matter what.
JM43: “I felt pretty good. Like I said, I felt better today in the afternoon. The track was probably faster in the morning but we had to adjust the settings on the bike a little bit more. We are quite different to say what we had at the test and also after what we had at Phillip Island, Motegi and also in Thailand. We made a big change for Thailand, we have kept it like that but made a step back similar to Aragon because it seems like a similar track. The last three tracks have been quite particular on their own. I am feeling quite comfortable but we need to find more pace. I was running consistent two minutes but looking at the other boys, what Fabio is doing we need to drop at least half a second. One Yamaha is fast in particular. If you look at one lap, the top speed of it, it seems to make a bit of a difference with the new soft. We have to wait and see. We need to analyse it a bit more and see what we need to do with our pace. The objective is the podium. It is a long road ahead of us. We take it step by step. Next year, classic Ducati things, we need more turning, more stability in the corner and they are some of the key things.”
MM93: “HRC say we have something new. We tried it. Not very or extra fast. We try to find something more but yeah it was a first. I need to feel the Honda bike. I mean, I am riding a lot of motocross and using clutch and front brake. It is easier for me to use like this. Tomorrow we will come back. We need to continue investigating to see where we can be better. We are struggling a lot more to get the rear grip on the exit of the corners. Yamaha have extra grip. At the moment, in that area, they are the best bike. This is one thing. The last part of braking, we are pushing to manage the tyre. For that reason, we see a lot of saves. We need to do another step this year. Force less the front tyre and try to have more grip on the exit of the corner. Saves are a reaction. Of course, it is just a reaction and on the second lap of the day, I did not expect it, it happened already on turn one and a big save on turn two. Then I say ok, we need to change the riding but I saw that things were not working and we changed set up. Of course, I said already, in 2017, reduce the crash, it was not possible in 2018, at the end of 2018, we reduce. This year I was able to ride in a different way, force less on the entry of the corner and use more of the exit of the corner. It is true, we are pushing a lot. I crash a lot less, how many saves though! We need to still work. It is critical in the last part of braking on the front tyre. Yamaha’s are all in front. All four Yamaha’s are riding very fast especially on the track, race pace and in FP1, normally in here it looks like the engine is important, the bikes in front were Yamaha and Suzuki. We were slower on the straight even with Ducati. There are many corners. You have to find the grip. We need to keep working. Race pace, we are still a little bit far, not too far”.
Finally, Alberto Puig is keeping everyone guessing by studying Johann Zarco carefully at LCR… Could Jorge Lorenzo lose his ride and be out of the sport? Could Zarco become their test rider? We wait for news.
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