Fabio Quartararo took a sensational home GP pole position for Petronas Yamaha SRT in a hugely dramatic Q2 at the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix. A stunning 1:58.303 saw the Frenchman beat fellow Yamaha riders Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT), with Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez crashing, meaning he'll start P11.
A frantic session started with Marquez backing out of his first flying lap as the 2019 World Champion went in search for a tow – the man on his radar? Quartararo. The rookie sensation kept his head down on his first lap to take provisional pole, before Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) then took over at the summit in Q2. Not fazed by an eight-time Champion right in his wheel tracks, Quartararo was firing in a stunner as Marquez quickly lost touch.
The number 20 Yamaha rider came round to go 0.4 quicker as the goalposts were moved further as Q1 graduate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) went ahead of Marquez – the Hondas unable to do anything about the flying Frenchman. However, it was Viñales who would hold the advantage after the first run, the Spaniard topping Quartararo by a slender 0.087 as Morbidelli slotted himself into P3.
Then, it was time for a big dose of drama. As Quartararo headed out for his second run, Marquez rumbled out of pitlane right next to the Yamaha. The tactics were obvious for Marquez and others: stay behind Quartararo to try and get a qualifying tow. And that’s exactly what happened. Quartararo knew Marquez was there and every time the Frenchman slowed and looked around, Marquez would do the same.
But would Quartararo ruin his next lap in order to not drag the World Champion round?
The answer was no, Quartararo fired his YZR-M1 out of the final corner and down the straight, with Marquez having to deal with Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) to latch onto Quartararo. The latter was slightly wide at Turn 1 as Marquez got crossed up – but the 93 made the apex. However, no such apex was made at Turn 2 as Marquez, pushing to stay with Quartararo, suffered a vicious highside.
Monumental drama in Sepang as Marquez danced with the devil, leaving him out of Q2 and facing a potential outside the top 10 qualifying position. Why? Because the pace on track was getting spicy. Petronas’ Morbidelli was laying down the rubber and the Italian snatched P1 from his teammate by 0.224. But Morbidelli’s delight didn’t last long, Viñales struck to take P1 back by just 0.026 – but it wasn’t over yet.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was going great guns and the Australian moved himself up to a provisional front row, with Rossi also climbing to P5. Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso then also got the better of Marquez’ time as the 93 tumbled down the timesheets, but how bad would it get for the Spaniard?
Meanwhile, a devil’s fire had been stoked. Quartararo was 0.2 under halfway around the lap, 0.3 under at the third split but would he hold on? A slight twitch at the final corner threatened to spoil a phenomenal lap and, although losing time, Quartararo took the checkered flag to take an immense fifth pole of 2019, his sixth consecutive front row start. Viñales and Morbidelli make it a Yamaha front row lockout in Malaysia before a Ducati, Honda and Yamaha make up the second row. That consists of Miller, Q1 pacesetter Crutchlow and nine-time World Champion Rossi. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) spearheads Row 3 in P7 ahead of Petrucci, with LCR Honda Idemitsu’s Johann Zarco having a sterling ride in Q2 to grab his best dry qualifying of the year in P9 – the second best Honda on the grid.
Dovizioso, after showing strong pace in Free Practice, will be slightly downbeat with P10 in Sepang. How bad did it get for Marquez? P11 will be his starting position on Sunday afternoon, the 55-time premier class winner’s worst qualifying since the 2015 Italian GP. After the heavy impact, fingers crossed Marquez has no injuries and will be fully fit to fight his way through the pack on race day. Pramac Racing’s Francesco Bagnaia completed the top 12 in Q2.
Wow. A breath-taking Sepang Q2 will take some time getting over. Quartararo and Yamaha are the ones to beat as 0.129 covers the leading trio. Are you ready for the Malaysian GP? It’s one you really don’t want to miss at 15:00 local time (GMT+8) on Sunday afternoon.