Rider Insight: Malaysian Grand Prix


Freddie Spencer’s take on the 2017 Malaysian MotoGP Grand Prix

After three races in a row, the championship is pretty much exactly how we suspected it would be at this point, having come down to Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez. The contrast in their styles has certainly made things interesting.

It’s also been a lesson in how a rider can change, as we’ve talked about all season. Dovi, in particular, has made a mental change as much as anything else, believing in what he’s capable of and in his own destiny.

I know that it works that way and I talked about that in my own story, when I was a little kid and would go down to the Honda dealership and see the picture of Mr Honda on the wall. It was JW Gorman who owned the local Honda dealership, Power Cycle Honda.

All those years later I ended up walking into Mr Honda’s home and we celebrated winning the 500cc World Championship for him, a dream that he had when he started Honda in the late ’40s and a dream that I had when I began. You have to dream first and then make it happen.

Dovi’s at that point. It’s been a dream year for him and for Ducati, 10 years since Casey Stoner won the World Championship in 2007. They hired Jorge Lorenzo to come in and win that World Championship but it’s not been Jorge, it’s been Dovi, and it’s been a feel-good story, something that’s made the season interesting.

Contrast that with Marc, who was expected to win the World Championship. And there was even hope this year that maybe Valentino Rossi could, one last time, generate some magic and at 38 years old win the World Championship.

I actually predicted that Maverick Viñales would do it, it would be a battle between Marc and Maverick for the world title. It looked like at the beginning of the season for Maverick, especially after the winter testing and the first three races, he was going to maybe even dominate the championship, because it was maybe his time, but it didn’t turn out that way. In fact, he struggled, especially in the latter half of the season.

We’ve talked about the trials and the tribulations of the Yamaha in difficult conditions and it looked very similar this weekend for the Yamaha factory team; not for the Tech 3 bike and Johann Zarco. And he’s shown that the Yamaha can be competitive. Maybe it is the fact that he’s on the older bike and with the older chassis, but for sure Zarco hasn’t been affected by adverse conditions as much as the factory Yamaha team has. 

Qualifying rundown

Qualifying was certainly interesting. It looked like Dovi was up there on Friday and he got onto the front row of the grid which, for him, was the most important thing. Zarco was also up there like I said, and Dani Pedrosa too, who really does well at Malaysia. 

Importantly, it was dry. If it was going to be wet, Pedrosa would struggle. Some of that is maybe because of his weight. He can’t seem to get the rain tyres up to the proper operating temperature and it causes him to struggle, and he did, particularly with Sunday’s wet conditions.

Lorenzo is certainly running out of time now, and Sepang is a track at which he’s not picked up a victory.

Sunday was always going to be interesting if the situation came about in which Lorenzo could help Dovi with points. Would there be team orders, or a situation where he had to make a choice between winning his first race on the Ducati or helping out his team-mate?

I think it’s a no-brainer. He would have had to try to help Ducati win the World Championship, I couldn’t imagine him making any other choice. So, if it was going to come to that late in the race, which it looked like it was going to, I don’t think he would have a choice.

Ducati dominates

As the race started, Marc got an incredible start, coming from the third row to lead into Turn 1. Of course, he was in there too hot and he ran wide, losing the lead.

It looked like it was set up to be a battle between the Ducatis and the Hondas. The Suzukis looked like they were going to be pretty strong in the race weekend, and they were. But Dani Pedrosa, you have to feel bad for him, because he qualified on pole and then in the race he drifted back in the wet conditions.

Some chose soft tyres and some harder tyres. The Hondas have to ride harder tyres, so Cal Crutchlow, who was really strong in those conditions last year, wasn’t even in contention.

It was a great run for Petrucci, though he had to change from the number one bike to the second bike. He started at the back but worked his way up to finish in the top 10 – a great ride. I believe if he was able to start on his number one bike, he would’ve battled for victory as he did at Aragon.

Zarco was right there leading the race, on his way to a first win, and he was able to run the softer compound Michelin tyre. But then it looked like Jorge was on the way to his first victory at Sepang, but what can I say – Dovi did exactly what he needed to do. 

It came down to the decision: what was going to happen between Jorge and Dovi? It kind of took care of itself. In Turn 15, it looked like Jorge lost the front end. I don’t believe he did that on purpose but it answered the question, letting Dovi get by as he drifted wide. It was clear that Jorge was not going to risk anything and make a pass in the last three laps. 

Dovi did say afterwards that there were no team orders, and I understand that; I’ve been in that situation. Just let the race happen how it’s supposed to and go from there. You know Jorge was going to make that decision, running wide and tucking the front end – saving the crash – to allow Dovi to get by. Dovi won the race, which is exactly what he needed to do with a great ride. And you have to feel good for Ducati – a 1-2 – in those conditions. 

Marc did what he needed to do, finishing a safe fourth as he wasn’t able to maintain the pace and was struggling with his Honda. He didn’t want to throw it away and lose the point lead that he had.

Rossi and Maverick, on the factory Yamahas, were back in the field and weren’t even in contention.


Looking to Valencia

Valencia is going to be interesting. Marc is so strong there, I think it’s going to be difficult for Dovi, but as everybody said afterwards, even if he doesn’t win the World Championship, this year’s been an incredible story, a great turnaround and a great ride every race. 

They call him ‘The Professor’ now because of his decision-making, and it’s going to be interesting at Valencia.

We know Jorge is very strong there, and if it’s late in the race, and it looks like nothing’s going to happen in the championship, Jorge might get his first victory of the season. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are too. See you there.

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