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.
The weather forecast from Friday appeared overly dramatic by the start of FP3, the Sepang circuit welcoming the lightweight class with dry and warm conditions for their final practice outing. However, the cloud cover was there and before it started to look too menacing, riders were in a rush for some early speed to secure direct Q2 positions. The first batch of laps impacted quite seriously on the combined standings and Friday leader Kaito Toba quickly found himself slipping to the bottom of the top ten.
The point of motorcycle racing is to go faster than everyone else. And because motorcycle racing is a sport composed of many different parts, there are a lot of different parties wanting to be fastest. Riders want to be fastest to win races and championships. Factories want to be fastest to win championships, but also to have the bike with the highest top speed, and to collect lap records. Even tire suppliers want to collect lap records. That, after all, is how they measure progress.
Since coming into the class, Michelin have shattered a lot of records set by Bridgestone, the previous Official Tire Supplier to MotoGP. But not all of them, and if you speak to people from Michelin, this is something they are far from happy about. But they keep chipping away, circuit by circuit, looking for ways to improve the tires to allow the bikes to go faster. This is the way Michelin creates competition for itself, and sets goals for its R&D department to pursue.
So far, they have done pretty well, taking the race lap record at nine of the tracks which MotoGP raced at prior to 2016, when they took over from Bridgestone. Their record on outright lap records is even better. Up until Friday morning, Michelin still had five circuits where they hadn't beaten the fastest ever lap set during practice or qualifying by Bridgestone.
Moving the bar
The pretty blue skies of Friday morning got a less fetching blanket of clouds by the time FP2 came around. However, with the rain saving itself for Saturday, a hot pace was a must for the premier class. Marc Marquez resumed regular scheduling at the top of the standings until Maverick Viñales anticipated the push for Q2 positions with 13 minutes remaining.
The plotline for FP2 ended up fairly similar to the first session of the day, with Alex Marquez setting camp at the top of the timesheets and holding on until the usual time attack, although the gap was not quite as comfortable as in the morning. Regardless, the championship leader maintained prime position for a significant portion of the session and showed quietly confident pace, with his main challengers in close pursuit. With question marks around the weather on Saturday morning, the final five minutes were reserved for a push for the combined top 14.