2 years ago
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After another shake up in Australia, it's time for another quick turnaround as the paddock heads north to Malaysia and Sepang International Circuit for the final flyaway. There's plenty still on the line too, with the team title, the fight for top Independent and the battle for the top three overall still very much at boiling point - so who will leave the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix walking the tallest?
Malaysian GP: High hopes!
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) seems a good candidate. He's got a good record at Sepang and he's on a roll of winning form, so who would bet against the reigning Champion? This weekend could be an even bigger one than many too, as the team title could be decided. Repsol Honda are now just one behind Ducati overall, and Marquez has been the biggest contributor. Can the Spaniard make it three out of three?
The Ducati Team, however, won't go down without a fight - and especially not at Sepang. Andrea Dovizioso has a top record at the track and will be eager to bounce back from a tougher Australia. He was confirmed as second overall Down Under so that's less pressure in the rider standings, but the team spoils are important for him and teammate Danilo Petrucci, and they've been ahead for some time. Petrucci, after a crash at the start of the Australian GP, lost his record of being the only rider so far to have scored in every race too, and he'll want more for himself and the squad.
"That crash has haunted me for the whole year"
The man he collided with at Phillip Island, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), will also want a lot more from the weekend. After his FP1 crash saw him fighting to get back near the front on race day last time out, it's time to reset and try to impress in front of the home fans - not his, but the team's. Malaysia is Petronas turf and the quickest rookie on the block will be gunning for some big glory - as will his teammate Franco Morbidelli, as he also had a tougher race last time out. Quartararo is also up for top Independent Team rider honours and the Petronas Yamaha SRT outfit are fighting for top Independent Team, so there's plenty to play for.
Phillip Island was also a tougher one for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP. Maverick Viñales was the fastest man all weekend - Marquez also said as much - but disaster struck just a few corners from the finish line as he battled the reigning Champion. How will he feel heading into Malaysia? He knows, at least, he had the speed to challenge the number 93 in Australia, even if it didn't all come together at the end, and he's not too far behind Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in the fight for third overall. Viñales' teammate Valentino Rossi also had a tougher latter half of the race in Australia, although 'The Doctor' led the race in the initial stages and took a solid points finish in his 400th GP. But he's not about solid points finishes, so it's a bit of a bounce back on the cards for the number 46 - at least in terms of his pace throughout the whole race.
Circuit setup: facing the Malaysian humidity
Rins, meanwhile, is under threat from Viñales and Petrucci for third, but he also has something else to think about of late: rookie teammate Joan Mir. The debutant took his first top five finish at Phillip Island and he'll be looking to build on that, as well as turn the tables on an incredible race for fellow rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), who beat him to fourth. Bagnaia, however, was the second fastest man at Sepang in testing, so he'll be feeling pretty confident about beating Mir - and taking the fight to teammate Jack Miller once again.
Miller is the man who stands to ruin the Petronas Yamaha SRT party for Quartararo in terms of the Independent Team rider standings, and the Aussie took a stunning home podium last time out as top Ducati. Can he reel in even more ground? And can Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) get back on the box? The Briton was second Down Under to take his best finish of the season, and that at the track where he suffered his huge and potentially career-threatening crash last year. His is a longer shot at stopping the young hotshot Frenchman, but the maths say it's possible....
The squabble for points at Sepang is sure to be another hard-fought battle, and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, the latter of which took their best finish last time out, will be hoping to complicate matters even further for those looking for a place in Q2, the top ten and the top five. Will we see the likes of the team Championship and top Independents get decided in Malaysia? Or will it all roll on to Valencia? Find out on Sunday at the slightly later local time of 15:00 (GMT +8).
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