Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Pace Counts, Consistency Counts, Why Dovizioso Was the Problem, And Crashes And Clashes

Editor's note: Three back-to-back weekends of Asia-Pacific flyaways have proved to be punishing in terms of disrupted sleep patterns. As a result, I am reverting to writing a brief set of Subscriber notes for Sepang, with a full race report to follow by the end of the day tomorrow.

In these subscriber notes:

  • How Maverick Viñales won
  • What Marc Márquez coming second means for MotoGP
  • Fabio Quartararo's weaknesses, to add to his strengths
  • Why it was Dovizioso, not Ducati, that was a problem for Valentino Rossi
  • Why Rossi is a problem for Yamaha
  • The clashes between Alex Rins and Jack Miller, and Joan Mir and Johann Zarco, whether the punishment fit the crime, and the role the track played
  • The future of Johann Zarco

Stability matters

Fabio Quartararo may have got all the headlines at Sepang on Friday and Saturday, but it was obvious to anyone who studied the timesheets that Maverick Viñales had the best pace in practice, and by a significant margin. Viñales' pace in practice was two to three tenths better than anyone else.

In the past, however, converting that pace into podiums proved difficult for Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider was getting poor starts, and struggling in the early laps. But he has made a huge step forward in the past few races, especially since the Austrian round at the Red Bull Ring. Viñales was on the podium at Silverstone and Misano, fourth in Aragon, third in Buriram, fourth in Motegi, and led for most of the race in Phillip Island before crashing out.

Winning at Sepang felt like a double reward, after crashing out on the final lap in Phillip Island. "After the Australia crash I felt I won the race, in my body I felt that, because I already made the attack in my head but I crashed," Viñales said. "Here I’ve been very consistent all the weekend, with a used tire, new tire, in the time attack. So I knew if I can get the first place, I had the chance to push, push, and push and try to open a gap."

That was exactly what Viñales did. He got a solid start, slotted in behind Jack Miller for the first few corners, used the corner speed and turning of the Yamaha to get past at Turn 11, then push to create a gap as soon as possible. He had a brief moment of doubt when he saw Marc Márquez was behind him - "****! He's coming! I said to myself," Viñales told Spanish media. But his pace was relentless. He broke Márquez, even when the Repsol Honda rider managed to eke a few tenths back on him, and went on to win in imperious fashion.

What has been the difference for Viñales in the second half of the season? The clues were there after he refused to spend any time testing the carbon swingarm and new exhaust after Misano. No more changes, just focus on setup, and getting the bike right.

Stick in the mud

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Old Masters at Work

Watching the Dovi/Rossi battle was a lesson in racecraft of the highest order. And as much as I enjoy watching a rider attack, watching Dovi defend was even better. From my viewing, Dovi changed his tactics depending on the race conditions and his track position relative to Vale. On some laps I noticed that instead of maximizing his corner speed leading onto the twin straights, he very much minimized it. But why?

Getting into a cornering battle with a Yamaha is like getting into a stink contest with a zoo will lose (I would hope). A lot of the Yamaha's resurgence in exiting corners is their ability to use edge grip to carry more speed, and then to exploit their much improved electronic package to accelerate. The combination of both means the M1 is now a proper little rocket off the medium...and even the slower...curves. Accelerating with a cornering speed advantage has largely (but not completely) negated their BHP deficit to the V-4's. But Dovi was aware of this...because Dovi sees all (seriously, he has a spooky gift in this regard). So his response was, at times, to not race a Yamaha in the corners, but to pretty much park his Duck at the apex on a tight line. Vale, having planned to use the M1's cornering prowess, found that path blocked and had to also accept a lower apex speed. And that means the Yamaha's advantage in corner exit speed was effectively neutered, and it just became a drag race down the next straight, which of course the Ducati will currently win. And Dovi mixed it up enough to preclude Vale from developing a counter strategy.

Dovi was also aware that Vale didn't have a lot left in the locker to deal with the Ducati under these circumstances. He noted that when a rider dive-bombs you but cannot hold the line (leading to an immediate counter attack), the threat of being overtaken is limited if the leading rider does not make any big Dovi didn't make any. What was also noticeable about this Dovi-Rossi duel is that, while it was always a thing of beauty and aggression, the pair of them also didn't trip each other up with a lot of hopeless nonsense that would have let Rins sneak into the pantry. To attack and defend, while still maintaining a race pace that eliminates the dreaded third-man option, was also a brilliant display of racecraft.

And racecraft is something the rest of the field (MM excepted) could benefit from a deeper study of. Too many rider's starting strategy now seems to be to pull the pin, point the front tire in the general direction Turn 1, and hope that God loves them more than the rest of the field. But they do not seem to have achieved the ability to see, I mean really see, the potential opportunities and risks when the starting lights go out...and then execute a plan to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Vale's brilliant start at PI, Marc's brave and beautiful launch at Sepang, and Dovi's surgical strike on the first lap (also at Sepang) are how its done. As Vale has pointed out, with the whole grid on launch control, the days of getting a better start due to just acceleration is a thing of the past. You can screw up a start, but if that doesn't happen you have to accept that you are not the road-runner in a pack of coyotes, but just one of many road-runners...some with holeshot devices. What matters is where you plan to be in the second or third turn, and that it is of no advantage to gain two places into the first bend if you give up four by the third. And what appears to be better acceleration at the start by some may just be the result of them keeping the throttle 10/10ths pinned (because they have a plan and are acting on it), while others are 9.5/10ths pinned because they have hearts filled with hope...but are otherwise just reacting to the mayhem.

Moto2 Speed vs. MotoGP Speed

Another of Dovi's illuminating observations was made in the context of Bagnaia's Road to Damascus moment at PI. To paraphrase his comments, Pecco still has too much Moto2 speed in his DNA, and while that may be very effective at tracks like PI that reward high corner speeds, it may not get the job done when you are fully in the mix and trying to move forward on a track where long straight bits are preceded by slow bent bits. That high corner speed style is pretty much nutted when you have other bikes blocking the apex in front of you, and still more looking to dive bomb you up the inside with a block pass...which you are only encouraging by taking those wide sweeping Moto2-style lines. What makes this difficult for younger riders is that the Moto2 style can be so damn effective in practice and qualifying. With nobody in front or behind the wide sweeping approach is a potent weapon...even on the stop & go circuits. But in the race it may be a weapon with a dulled edge. Or one that leads to riders trying to scoot up the inside (using corner speed) and coming to grief with riders using the hard braking/hard accelerating V-Line. And to be clear, Dovi is not advocating the complete abandonment of the Moto2 style. Hell, he would like nothing better than for Gigi to give him a few buckets more of the stuff. But if that is the only arrow in your quiver, you may not be the race threat that your impressive practice pace would lead everyone to expect. Yes, you can negate this disadvantage if you can get away out front by your lonesome, but seriously, riders who have won championships that way can be counted on you ears.

The Petronas and Suzuki lads need to take this next step (in advanced racecraft) to challenge for a championship. This is not a criticism, but reflects the normal and expected upward trajectory of any prospective champion. And you can always learn racecraft...if you are already fast. In fact, that is where the lessons are taught, running in the top five. But Clever Hans himself will never prosper if he is also Hans the Paracarro. Maverick appears to currently be further along this path than the rest of the young gangsters in MotoGP, but I will need to see him carve more people up at the start of a race to be totally convinced. Marc is, of course, without peer in his combination of speed and racecraft, but trying to extract lessons from Marc is like studying how to part the Red Sea: "OK, Sunny Jim, you saw how Moses did that?...Right, now you have a go". But Professors Vale and Dovi are lecturing on the subject of advanced racecraft most weekends throughout the year, and do not require a personal recomendation from the Almighty to attend. The youngsters should take notes and pay attention before that opportunity vanishes. I will enjoy it as long as it lasts. Cheers.

While I look forward to reading your post in the comment sections after every race weekend, you seriously need your own space/blog/whatever. Please consider adding it to your new year resolutions.


best thing i have read ..  in while david..    ooh and send me some pancake's .. 


Is it enough? Who knows. Lorenzo is still injured, and there is good reason to believe that the fractured vertebrae have him spooked, afraid of crashing and ending up paralyzed, a perfectly reasonable fear for an athlete. 

David, don't quite understand this sentence, seems to be the opposite of your meaning?

Rossi's results mean he deserve a factory seat in MotoGP. But his ties and history with Yamaha mean that he and Yamaha are condemned to one another.

Do you mean doesn't deserve?

Super piece anyway.

I meant he deserves a seat on merit, but he is no longer the first choice of rider if you had to start with a clean sheet. But Rossi's only option is with Yamaha, for historical and commercial reasons (and maybe also for riding style reasons). And Yamaha's only option is to keep Rossi for as long as he is this competitive, even though in the medium term, they would be better off going with young riders. He is 40, and he is honestly astonishingly good at 40. But we are definitely at the point where you have to wonder how long he will continue to be this good. That is a fundamentally different question for riders in their early 20s.

Jorge Lorenzo illustrates this point. Is he done? He was winning races and looking capable of threatening Marquez' hegemony just a year ago. Can you decline that quickly? Is it a combination of injury and a bike he can't get on with? And more importantly, do you give a 32 year old a chance to recover, knowing how talented he can be but uncertain he will ever reach that same level, or do you take someone in their early 20s, and hope the flashes of talent they showed can become something much greater?

Difficult decisions. Glad I'm not making them, because you would always end up second guessing yourself.

What I don't understand is why Jorge is trying to race if he is still suffering from his spinal injury. The whole Jorge Lorenzo situation seems inexplicable to me. 

is for some contractual reason. If he can walk, there's no reason he can't ride? (general sarcasm)

He's obviously very wary of the machine, and can't wait to turn his back on it. Part of the equation is Honda's history of regarding the machine above the rider, which appears to be continuing into 2020, if all the rumors are correct. Or maybe more correctly, giving one rider the tools he needs, at the expense of the rest of the Honda riders. If you have the Golden Calf in Marquez, who needs anyone else?

Having said that, MM93's resilience is truly amazing. I would have put him down for a lower Top 5 result yesterday, if all the stars aligned but instead...

Don't often express sympathy for professional sportsmen...but. Obviously he is very much still in pain/hurt from his injuries. And scared of inflaming them more. If Puig wasn't Puig he should be in rehab in Barcelona or something. Confidence is shot to pooh. Zarco breathing on his lunch probably not helping a rider of his style either.

Why would any serious team boss give Lorenzo a job at this point? He can't win a title, to do that you must race in mixed conditions. Maybe Aprilia  or KTM where a single win would be like a title. I have been a fan of his for years, and while he has copious talent, since his collarbone at Assen, he hasn't had the love. Right now he and Honda are in a staredown. 

Maverick and Fabio on the factory team. Vale and Morbidelli on a VR46 team with Petronas backing. Four bikes, four great riders. My recommendation for 2020 and 2021. Not that anyone should pay attention to me. 

This is superb as always!

Lorenzo is still injured, and there is good reason to believe that the fractured vertebrae have him spooked, afraid of crashing and ending up paralyzed, a perfectly reasonable fear for an athlete.

The above line points to a bit of much-needed sympathy for Lorenzo. A little over 10 years ago I highsided during a track day, breaking a handful of vertebrae. I was lucky to have no nerve damage, and doctors assured me that after healing my back would be less prone to damage than before (something about bones healing stronger than they were originally). Nevertheless, that was the end of my motorcycling days. After a few months of recovery, I fixed up my bike, rode it around the block, and sold it. Just couldn't do it anymore. I was well and truly spooked. And this was not my first major accident either -- a previous low-side (which led to some brain hemmorraging) was arguably much more life-threatening, but I was eager to get back on the saddle afterwards.  

The fact that Lorenzo is able to get back on the saddle and race at the level that he is racing (comparatively slow, sure, but still faster than 3 other riders, and faster than any of us mere mortals), is nothing short of admirable. The fact that it is nevertheless not enough is deserving of our sympathy. It seems nonsensical to suggest, as some have in social media, that he is not trying anymore. It reminds me a bit of the aftermath of Rubens Barrichello's 1994 crash at Imola (I know, F1 is ludo non grato here):  I may be mistaken, but I remember hearing that he would ride the brakes on his F1 for a few races after coming back - he was just so spooked. He did eventually bounce back, but he needed time. The same might be true of Lorenzo -- or may have been, had he not been pressured to come back to early, and had he been riding a bike he is well-suited to.

Anyway, just a layman's views. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis as always, David.


I hear yah!
8,5 years ago I highsided at Le Mans and broke two vertebrae. Fixed my bike and started riding fairly soon afterwards. Only to stop doing trackdays a year later or so. Still in pain, but had been slower quite a bit. Also everyone telling me "how lucky I had been" kinda got in my head. I think only a year or two ago the pain was less frequent. I guess with top notch medical care and physio these guys (with a lot more muscles than I ever had) can rehabilitate faster, but even now I ride with a voice in the back of my head not to crash 'cause I know it had hurt me. Started doing a few trackdays this year... can't help it.

I had not been a fan of Lorenzo in the past, even though I had nothing but respect for his skills. But turning his performances around on the Duke is no small feat. I genuinly hope he'll be back at the front, giving MM a run for his money, before retiring whenever he decides to do so.

And I hear you on the lingering pain. It took almost 8 years for that feeling of being on the verge of stiff neck going away for me, thanks to impulse buying (and cautiously using)  a cheap neck traction device. The part of my back that I broke is sore and stiff to this day. I no longer find myself tearing up because of it, but it's still there most days. I can't imagine getting back on that #99 Honda with the ever-present reminder of that close call in the back of his mind... 

And I also hear you on the whole "how lucky are you?" bit getting on your head. It's not just friends and family, but also doctors, physiotherapists, nurses... It's hard to ignore, and I'm sure Lorenzo has had both ears full of it.

I miss motorcycles, but can't bring myself to ride again. I'm even more scared of the road (terrible drivers where I live) than I am of trackdays. This is why David's line about being spooked spoke to me: it describes where I'm at, and been at for ~10 years, perfectly.

I'm glad to hear that you're riding again! Enjoy it!

David, for me at least this summary is enough. It gives the all important insights into what really happened that acts as the opener for the usual medley of interesting, entertaining and often perceptive comment and I like that it's come just a day after the race. I confess that I've reluctantly trawled other sites of late while waiting for commentary here, but the good news is that motomatters remains head and shoulders better in every respect. It's Lord of the Rings out there, a troll-fest!

Here's a thought - what about a 'topping and tailing' approach, made up of this concise summary the day after and a more ruminative article towards the end of the week that includes a reflection on what's been said here and in the media over the subsequent days? Just looking for ways for you to keep going without killing yourself!

About the JL matter,  i would love to see him on a Suzuki that front end, after what we see every weekend,  will bring the confidence back and a confident JL is a (very) fast competitor good for the champinship good for everyone. propably he wont win another WC but he would stack podiums, wins  poles etc.


Anyhow i cant see someone being able to stop  MM (FQ needs to prove himself in the heat of a title fight).  What he did yesterday was taken from the pages of the glory vale days, no  matter the QP  2 3 laps in he was in the heat of battle on a weekend that nothing came his way

Just my 2 c excellent site by the way David and an excellent bunch of commentattors


Andrera3...GREAT post! It appears, many folks haven't competed AND dealt with injuries/attempting to come back/being 'spooked'. The mental toughness you need, to come back and succeed, is off the charts! I've never been a Jorge fan, other then admiring his talent, but I'm giving him more time. He hasn't forgotten how to go fast, he just isn't allowing himself to do so....and may never get back to what he was. Only he knows what's going on in his 'head'.

Beating Marc next year, or over the next few years, is going to be VERY difficult. His WORST finish, excluding COTA, is 2nd. Even if you reverse his wins/2nd's, he still winning the WC in a walk. Can he be beat? Obviously, but when his worst day is 2nd and yours is 5th....


Thanks! For what it's worth, I just saw Mat Oxley's latest piece on Lorenzo, going into a lot more detail on these points. Very much worth a read!

just read that rodger penske has bought indianapolis motor speedway.

went to inaugurial motogp race in '08. hurricane and all.

if you have not been there, it is hard to imagine the size and feeling of historical significance that is IMS.

please, god, rodger and mr.ezpaleta bring the finest motorsport on the planet back to indy.


Lorenzo, confidence, injury.

Remember that Jorge is sensitive to insufficient front end feel, and cautious in conditions reminding him of previous injury situations. It used to be rain and a certain track. Now it is that front end vagueness and everywhere except the straights.

Until he breaches the minimum front end feel barrier, he is stuck. Maybe the 2020 bike does it. And maybe not.

How we get rid of the best riders of the world just after a year of a bad marriage between man and machine. What is also a bit strange is that too outshine you need extraordinary specific style, that only works with a specific machine or set of tyres. I think of Toni Elias, who got a terrific style and talent, but not in combination with the tyre characteristics of that era.

Earlier we get robbed of the talents of Zarco, Bradl, and many others

I think there is room for a second high profile race class next to motogp with room for all who just did not make it. Maybe the electric in future?

that they managed to make probably the most exclusive bike technically, so average looking. Even with pillion seats.... This is just next years base model

Great writing as always David!

I thought the reason for changing camber at turn 15 was to avoid water collecting on the inside?

i am little worried that Race Direction have gone into head ducking introspection. It's almost a cliche that sport regulators start off explaining themselve and then go to ground when the punters have their say. 

There have been a number of 'inside the paddock' explanations trying to justify how this Sepang track and the differing bike turning characteristics led to a number of riders aspiring to the same small bit of asphalt at a point around the apex. (And, Mr Crafar I am looking at you...)

I am sure it is frustrating to have a better turning ride and come up on other bikes that are slower at the apex, but you don't get to just run up the back of any bloke who is ahead of you. As Jinx says, you have great Moto2 technigue but it is not remotely acceptable that you slam into the back of other bikes or knock your opponent off track. Worst of all is that Race Direction hand down one penalty but remain silent on other inciidents. 

I think we need Race Direction to explain and communicate decisions to the racers and the fans. I think they should be accountable, as respected professionals. I won't, and you won't, always agree with them, but we need them to communicate properly. If this doen't happen, the Crutchlow theory, that some racers are more prone to penalty than others, will infect the fans' confidence with the sport.

Oh and can somone please explain to Mr Miller that whatever tyre choice Dovi makes, he needs to go one step more conserative than that. How may times this year has Jack ended up a passenger on his tyre choice? 

I have watched the incident over and over and I am having a hard time seeing what Mir did wrong. It looks to me as though it is a pure racing incident. I have to say I agree with JM36 - he's a rookie so he gets spanked. I could be missing something -- anyone?

I'm no fan of Lorenzo, at all, but the 99 bashing is tiresome.  It's as tiresome as the #46 bashing was at Ducati with a lot of people proved horribly wrong, including journalists.  Jorge is hurt.  Another nasty crash and he risks being paralyzed or unable to live a normal life after the leathers are hung up for good.  He is riding safe.  A rider's life is more important than any racing.  We also had to listen to this bashing when Lorenzo was on the Ducati.  Jorge kept insisting on changes, changing the bike to his riding style, if you read between the lines, rider and factory meeting in the middle, then bam, podium, wins.  He is as fast as he ever was.  He is just nursing a severe injury and the front end of the Honda is made for Marc Marquez, not Jorge Lorenzo.  Notice how Cal's job isn't being hailed as should be over.  The other Hondas this year have had a nightmare with the bike.  Lorenzo needs time to heal, and Honda needs to give him a better bike and front end he can work with and he'll be right there, pissing off Marquez as he becomes a threat, same thing he did at Ducati.  I never thought I'd ever be defending Lorenzo, but he deserves much more credit.  he's a multi-MotoGP champion.