The VROOM Blog #MalaysianGP – Pecco wins in Sepang as Fabio takes the title fight to Valencia

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

This weekend saw the MotoGP paddock return to Sepang in Malaysia for the final round of the flyaway races, and the penultimate MotoGP round of the 2022 season. While the racing (in MotoGP at least – the Moto3 race was awesome) might not have been anywhere near as exciting as it was last time out in Australia, there was tension throughout as the title fight could have been over by the end of the weekend.

Pecco Bagnaia headed into this weekend with a 14-point lead over reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo, and with only two races left this season – this weekend in Malaysia and the finale at Valencia – he could wrap the title up this weekend if the results fell in his favour. Aleix Espargaro and Enea Bastianini were both also still in with a shout of the title too, although their hopes were slimmer with a points deficit to Pecco of 27 and 42 respectively.

As there has been for weeks now, there was much talk of team orders at Ducati heading into the weekend, with Davide Tardozzi saying that the only “order” at the moment is not to do anything too dangerous with a fellow Ducati rider, but that should the situation arise in the final race of the season where one Ducati rider giving a position to Pecco could seal the title, then they will give that order. Meanwhile, Jack Miller was honest about his approach to helping his team mate, saying “if Pecco needs help or whatever, I’m there don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day this is an individual sport and… the difference between 3rd and 4th in the championship is quite a considerable amount of money.”

Jack is not wrong – it is an individual sport, and he is right to consider himself, especially when he isn’t going to be a Ducati rider next season. If I had the choice between helping my current employer who has effectively shown me the door, or helping myself secure a higher championship position and a financial bonus, I know what I would be doing!

FP1 saw an early crash for newly crowned Rookie of the year Marco Bezzecchi, as fellow VR46 Academy member Franky Morbidelli topped the timesheets. 10 minutes into the session Franky had relinquished the top spot to team mate Fabio Quartararo. Aleix Espargaro crashed his Aprilia on an out lap before returning to the garage and shouting that his bike wasn’t working.

There were more issues for Aleix later in the session as he raised his hand before cruising back to the pits. Darryn Binder had a crash with 15 minutes left to go, and the session was topped by Brad Binder from Alex Rins, Marc Marquez, Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin. Championship contenders Fabio Quartararo, Pecco Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro finished the session in 7th, 11th and 20th, although Aleix only completed one full lap and Fabio and Pecco didn’t put fresh tyres in like many of those ahead of them had.

FP2 got underway an hour later than scheduled due to Moto2 being red flagged as monsoon-like rain battered the circuit. It was announced between the sessions that Pol Espargaro had been given a 3-place grid penalty for impeding another rider, and replays show that Pol had run off track and re-joined rather close to Johann Zarco.

The session started with everyone heading out on wet tyres, and it was Franky Morbidelli who held the top spot for most of the first half of the session. Johann Zarco took the top spot for a few minutes, but Franky went faster again with 19 minutes to go. With 10 minutes to go, Cal Crutchlow shot to the top of the times before being bumped back by Miguel Oliveira.

With 5 minutes to go, Marc Marquez went fastest as Pecco, Bezzecchi, Alex Marquez and Cal headed out with slick tyres on. The session ended with Cal at the top of the times ahead of Pecco, Alex Marquez, Miller, Zarco, Viñales and Franky, with Crutchlow joking after the session that he was calling it quits and going out on top!

The times from the mostly wet FP2 session had no impact on the overall times, meaning that it was Brad Binder who headed the times as Friday came to a close.

FP3 on Saturday morning saw riders heading out on slicks – the track was mostly dry with a few damp patches. Pecco and Jack headed out together and were soon 1st and 2nd just ahead of Fabio. Raul Fernandez had a crash at turn 8 before we saw Fabio waving at team mate Franky who had been riding slower than he should on the racing line.

With 33 minutes to go, there were crashes for Pol Espargaro and Remy Gardner, and by the mid-point of the session it was still Pecco, Jack and Fabio holding the top 3 positions. Fabio Di Giannantonio crashed at turn 8, and there was a second crash for Pol Espargaro later in the session, this time at turn 1.

The time attacks were kicking off with 7 minutes left on the clock, and lots of riders were trying to follow Pecco and Enea. Both riders pulled over to the side at the end of pit lane to allow the followers to pass, but Marc Marquez simply rode really slowly until they were forced to pass him and he hooked right in behind them again. Meanwhile, Aleix was following Jorge Martin and the pair went to the top of the times as the rain flags started to be shown.

Franky was cruising again – I’m not sure what was going on with him in this session! – and this time it was Pecco and Marc he was in the way of, with the pair gesturing as they passed him. With less than a minute to go, Fabio and Pecco were running together on track as Pecco crashed at turn 7. The chequered flag came out and was followed by yellows for crashes for Cal and Alex Marquez.

Pecco was sitting in 10th place and it was looking precarious as he sat at the side of the track. He was bumped out of the top 10 by Franky – they had identical lap times, but as Franky’s seconds fastest lap was quicker, he got the place in Q2, and Davide Tardozzi was not a happy chappy, stomping off to Race Direction at the end of the session!

I can see why he was annoyed – Franky had impeded Pecco, but also Pecco crashed of his own accord, and both of these things prevented his progression to Q2, it wasn’t just Franky.

As it was, Franky was handed a double long lap penalty for the race, and Pecco would have to face Q1.

It was Jorge Martin leading the charge into Q2 ahead of Bezzecchi, Viñales, Luca Marini, Joan Mir, Enea, Fabio, Rins, Aleix and Franky.

FP4 saw a third crash of the day for Pol Espargaro, before crashes for Martin, Zarco and Fabio all within a few minutes. Fabio looked to have hurt his hand – he kept shaking it on his way back to the pits after he remounted – and it was confirmed after qualifying that he had broken his middle finger.

Marc Marquez had a crash towards the end of the session, and it was Bezzecchi who was fastest ahead of Enea, Jorge and Rins as the chequered flag was waved.

Back in the pits, Fabio was icing his fingers as the doctor came in to check on him – he would be assessed in the medical centre following Q2.

The Q1 session was absolutely stacked with people who you would expect to make it through to Q2 – Pecco, Zarco, Binder, Jack, Miguel and Marc Marquez to name a few. Pecco headed out of the pits with a line of riders behind him, but still managed to go to the top of the times.

There were crashes for Darryn Binder and Remy Gardner, while back in the pits there was a big discussion going on in Pecco’s garage as Tardozzi, Paolo Ciabatti and Pecco’s crew chief Christian Gabbarini frantically talked – presumably about whether or not to send Pecco back out to try and set a faster time as he was already 0.4 seconds faster than Jack who was in second.

There were 4 minutes left on the clock as Jack Miller headed out with others on his tail, leaving Pecco free to head out on his own a little later. Jack ran on at the start of the second sector – something that the sceptic in me believes was intentional to allow himself to try and set a fast lap alone without dragging others to laps potentially faster than his own.

In the final minute of the session, Alex Marquez crashed bringing out the yellow flags and hampering fast laps for those in his wake, while Pecco received a message on his dash telling him to return to the pits. Jack Miller suffered a big crash in the final few seconds, and despite taking longer than you would like to get to his feet, he was okay – but still feeling the pain from his crash in Australia.

As the session came to a close, Marc Marquez jumped to 2nd place meaning that Jack Miller would not be progressing to Q2 alongside his team mate.
Pecco started Q2 as the first rider to head out on track, while championship rival Fabio waited until last. After the first laps, it was Jorge Martin leading from Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini, while Pecco and Fabio were back in 10th and 11th.

As the second runs got underway, Aleix sprinted out of his garage to jump on his bike and follow Pecco out of pitlane, while Fabio and Franky waited until everyone else had left before heading out together. With just 2 minutes to go Pecco crashed and a minute later Fabio had a massive moment that ruined his final chance at a faster lap time.

The session ended with a crash for Aleix at turn 8 as Jorge Martin set a new all-time lap record to take pole position ahead of Enea and Marc. Franky Morbidelli qualified in 7th place as top Yamaha – it was a real shame that he was going to have to complete two long laps when he had finally got himself a decent grid position! As for the championship contenders – they would be lining up further back than they would have hoped, with Pecco in 9th, Aleix 10th and Fabio 12th.

Warm up on Sunday morning saw most riders using wet tyres on the damp track. Towards the end of the session, some riders completed bike swap practices in case of rain later on, and while some stayed on wets, Pecco, Zarco, Fabio and Brad Binder switched to slicks.

Zarco topped the session ahead of Marc and Alex Marquez. Aleix Espargaro looked to be having more bike issues as he struggled to engage the ride-height device for his practice start before returning to the garage and expressing his displeasure once again.

I know I don’t always mention Moto3 or Moto2, but this weekend I will again. John McPhee – still apparently on the hunt for a ride for next season – staged an almighty comeback to win the Moto3 race from 22nd on the grid! If you haven’t seen the race, you should definitely go back and watch the final lap – he overtakes 4 people in one move at one point and it was beautiful to watch. I’m not ashamed to say that there were tears shed in my living room at whatever ridiculous hour the Moto3 race finished this weekend!!

In Moto2, Ai Ogura did have the opportunity to tie up the championship this weekend, but he would’ve had to have won the race with Augusto Fernandez finishing no higher than 13th. Ai was on course for a 2nd place finish which would see him take a decent lead into the final round when he attempted to pass Tony Arbolino for the lead and crashed out of the race. It was absolute madness from Ai – he was almost definitely going to take second place, but instead he goes into the final race of the season 9.5 points behind Fernandez. It’s certainly not over, but he has made the job much harder for himself now.

Before the MotoGP race started there was a minute of applause in memory of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz.

In spite of the rain forecast for the start of the race, the riders lined up on a dry grid ahead of 20 laps of Sepang. Jorge Martin once again made the most of his pole position to lead into turn 1 ahead of Pecco, Enea, Marc, Franky and Fabio. Fabio was through on his team mate just before the team sent a dash message to let Franky know who was behind him. Joan Mir followed Fabio through, demoting Franky to 7th.

As Luca Marini pulled into the pits to end a run of 36 race finishes since he stepped up to MotoGP, Franky and Mir were having a battle for 6th place, with Franky doing a great job of holding Mir – and Rins behind – back as Fabio worked on moving forwards. Fabio was all over Marc for 4th place as Franky took the first of his long lap penalties and dropped back to 10th place – not bad considering it’s a longer long lap here than at other tracks.

Marc ran wide on lap 5 and Fabio pounced, but Marc was back in front of the Frenchman quickly. Fabio didn’t give up though, and made the move stick later in the lap to take 4th place. He was now 1.5 seconds behind Enea who was running in 3rd place.

Replacing Taka Nakagami for the final time – Taka is expected to return for Valencia – Tetsuta Nagashima crashed out of the race at turn 9 as Jorge Martin extended his lead to 1.2 seconds over Pecco. But then disaster struck for Jorge as he crashed out of the lead of the race, gifting the lead to Pecco, with Enea now 2nd and Fabio holding the final podium position.

If it finished like this, the title fight would roll on to Valencia, but if Fabio dropped further back than 3rd and Pecco kept the lead, it would be game over and Pecco would be champion – things were getting tense.

Marco Bezzecchi moved past Marc for 4th place, while out front Enea was all over the rear of Pecco’s Ducati. On lap 11 Enea made his move and took the lead as Darryn Binder crashed out of the race. If things were getting tense on track, I’m not sure how you would describe what was happening in pit lane as the Ducati bosses were deep in discussion on pit wall.

Pecco retook the lead from Enea on lap 14, but Enea didn’t look like he was ready to let Pecco have the win, and he remained a swarming nuisance behind, as Fabio continued to close the gap to Enea. Joan Mir crashed and remounted on lap 18.

On the final lap of the race, Enea and Pecco almost made contact as the Gresini man attempted to ride around the outside of the Factory Ducati rider. There was contact between Franky and Aleix as Franky dived underneath the Aprilia rider for 10th place – Franky was handed a 3 second penalty and dropped to 11th place. It’s getting to the point where they’re going to stop trying to overtake each other if they keep getting penalties like that.

Anyway, Pecco held Enea off to take the win, and Fabio kept the championship alive by finishing in 3rd place behind the pair of Ducatis. Pecco becomes the first Ducati rider to take 7 wins in a season since Casey Stoner back in 2007, and Ducati take the team world championship.

Dorna like to show the riders chatting behind the podium before the ceremony, and often when its live on tv you don’t actually hear what’s being said, but they usually release a video with the audio after the weekend. It’s sometimes quite interesting to hear what the riders have to say to each other, and often they are speaking in another language. More often than not, the riders are told to speak in English just as they were this weekend.

Is that really necessary? We don’t hear much of the chat live, and as mentioned, they release a video after the weekend anyway – why can’t they just let the riders speak whichever language they are speaking (I believe it was Italian this weekend) and then add subtitles for those of us who don’t speak that language? The riders go to the effort of learning English for the tv interviews, and other languages too – many of them speak more than their native language and English – so why must they be forced to speak English when they are effectively behind the scenes? It just seems unnecessary to me!

A perfect example of how allowing them to speak their native languages came this weekend when BT Sport’s Gavin Emmett interviewed Moto3 world champion Izan Guevara to answer his questions in Spanish. They put subtitles on the screen and Izan was much more talkative than he usually is in English based interviews.

While they were having their behind-the-scenes chat, Fabio had his hand in a bag of ice as he tried to bring down the swelling in his fingers. While things undoubtedly look difficult for Fabio heading into Valencia – he trails Pecco by 23 points, so nothing less than a race win for Fabio and a no score for Pecco will see Fabio retain his title – he remains positive, telling Natalie Quirk following the race that “even if the chance is super small, we did everything to bring it to Valencia.”

I’m looking forward to the season finale at Valencia, though I fear I won’t be as happy with the champion this season as I was last year! But this is MotoGP, and it has been proved before that anything can happen…

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