After a lengthy wait, due to a monsoon rain shower that hit the Sepang International Circuit directly at the end of FP4, the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP teammates were happy to get underway in qualifying. With no prior track time in wet conditions, they had to judge the limit to perfection in the 15-minute shoot-out. Valentino Rossi used his experience to put in a late charge to secure third position on the grid. Although Maverick Viñales made steady progress throughout the session, he will start tomorrow’s race from eleventh place.
Rossi opened his qualifying challenge with a 2’13.917s, for a provisional fourth place, but soon found himself in seventh position as the pace picked up. He didn’t improve on his next two tries and returned to the pits with slightly more than four minutes remaining.
A lightning fast stop later, the Doctor resumed his time-attack. He was able to put in one more hot lap, and he made it count. He had dropped down to eighth place, but made a brilliant comeback on his final try, shooting up to second with a 2’13.009s, 0.848s from first. Though he was pushed back to third position after the chequered flag went out, he still looks forward to starting tomorrow’s race from the first row.
Viñales was thankfully OK after he got caught out at the end of FP4 by the sudden rain, but due to the incident he needed a couple of laps to get back into the groove in Q2. He was on a no-stop strategy, allowing him to use the available track time to the fullest. He held tenth place for the first half and consistently topped his personal best time on his final three attempts, as his feeling improved. However, he wasn’t able to make progress in terms of grid position. He ended the session in eleventh place, with a 2’14.856s fastest lap, 2.695s from pole.
Pole sitter Marc Márquez was later penalised by Race Direction, following an incident in Q2 involving Andrea Iannone. He was demoted to seventh position, meaning Rossi moves up to second place on the grid.
Tomorrow’s time schedule has been amended to prevent similar delays as the MotoGP field experienced today due to weather and track conditions. MotoGP’s Warm Up will be held from 08:40 – 09:00 (local track time: GMT+8) and the race will get underway at 13:00.
Position: 3rd – Time: 2’13.009 – Laps: 7
“This kind of situation is always difficult, because you have to go into the qualifying with no data and no feeling. I’m very happy about the front row and I’m also happy because I have a good feeling with the bike, I could ride it in a good way. I tried qualifying with a soft rear, Márquez and Zarco used the medium. I ran into some traffic, I had to fight with Bautista a bit. But in the end this result is good, because at a certain point we thought we weren’t going to do the qualifying, so starting from the front row is very important. The race tomorrow will be held earlier, which I think is very clever, because at three o’clock the conditions are always bad here, every day. Maybe we can have a dry race, or at least race with a normal amount of water.”
Position: 11th – Time: 2’14.856 – Laps: 7
“We didn’t have a good attempt during today’s qualifying. The bike wasn’t working well, so it was difficult. What’s certain is that it wasn’t the tyre that caused the problem, it was the bike set-up for the wet, so that’s what the team needs to work on. In the dry we already set up the bike quite well. I don’t know what I should expect for tomorrow’s race, but it will be very interesting. In any case, we have a much better prospect now the schedule for tomorrow has changed, because the chance of rain is higher at three o’clock than it is at one. So, I hope the track will stay dry, because that’s when I feel the best. We have to see, but in FP4 I was really fast, and I felt so good on the bike. I think I can overtake quite fast at this track because the bike is good on acceleration. I need to concentrate on the start, and let’s see if I can make my best start of the year!”
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP – Team Director
“The rain came at a very unfortunate moment, just at the end of FP4, so we didn’t have any wet track time before we started Q2. The delayed start to the qualifying made it a very long day for the riders and the team, and the conditions remained quite uncertain. There was no way of telling how much the track had dried and 15 minutes is not a lot of time to find the limit. Valentino’s strategy of making a stop and using a fresh tyre worked. He would have been able to do even better if he hadn’t encountered Bautista on his final lap. But first row is always a good place to start the race from. Maverick experienced an unlucky fall in FP4, when it had just started to rain. Thankfully he was OK. He had a difficult qualifying session in the wet. Now it’s up to the team to find out what prevented him from being faster. It’s unfortunate, because his pace in the dry is very solid. For tomorrow, if we can have our pick, we would prefer a dry race, which will hopefully be possible thanks to the amended time schedule.”