Winning championships starts with winning races. But there is more to winning races than just turning up on Sunday, whacking the throttle wide open and holding it there for as long as possible when the lights go out. Winning a race is a long, drawn-out process, involving planning, strategy, assessing your strengths and weaknesses.
Sometimes, after looking at the pace of your rivals, checking it against your own data, balancing expected tire life against performance, and watching where the rest of the grid is stronger and where they are open to attack, you have no choice but to admit someone else is faster. It then becomes a question of trying to see what is possible, and trying to find a different way to succeed. Winning may be hard, but it is never out of the question.
So riders explore other ways to try to beat their rivals. The race doesn't just happen on Sunday, it starts in practice. You can try to win by going faster than everyone else, but sometimes, you can win by making your rivals go slower. You try to get into their head, intimidate them. Sometimes you do that by posting an explosive lap that nobody believed you were capable of, and which they fear to copy. Sometimes you do that by following them around on track, watching them, copying them, making them aware of your presence all the time. After all, every ounce of energy spent worrying about you is one which can't be spent on trying to go faster.
King of the hill
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class at Sepang:
The sky was replaced by one homogenous cloud in the lead up to the premier class’ final practice session but rainfall was modest and did not affect proceedings too much. Not intimidated by the rain flags waving around the track, Marc Marquez headed straight to the top of the timesheets while giving the soft rear tyre a good look – and good it did look but similar to the world champion’s pace on the medium. The Spaniard went unchallenged at the front until Fabio Quartararo decided to attack for top spot in the final five minutes.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Sepang:
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Sepang:
Given the blue sky with only patches of cloud, the premier class was in no rush to improve on their Friday times and focused on race pace work. It was not even slightly surprising to see the Yamahas and the world champion taking up air time for most of the session but improvements on the combined timesheets only came for the final ten minutes of FP2, just as rain flags came out waving. Whatever droplets there were, it did not seem to affect the time attack too much, red sectors still coming throughout.
Sepang gave a pretty warm and pretty sunny welcome to the intermediate class, unlike the forecast promised and riders got a full session of testing the limits. With Marquez hinting at a slight advantage on Friday, despite not topping either session, his title rivals were out to chase on Saturday morning. However, the Spaniard had different plans and started his day by breaking his own lap record around Sepang. Chasers eventually reduced the six tenths gap but it took until the final three minutes of the session for a true challenger to appear.