Fireworks were on the set list following on from the theatricals in qualifying and the sky was clear and ready for the show. By the end of lap two it already seemed like it wasn’t going to be the fiercest of battles, Maverick Viñales making a decent start for a change and taking a comfortable win. The Spaniard took his and Yamaha’s second victory of the season in the melting heat of Sepang, while the rest of the podium boys did most of the work on lap one. That work was pretty magical through, Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso turning a fourth row start into a podium almost instantly. Fresh off the euphoria of another title celebration, Marquez crossed the line second but the closest he got to Viñales was on the victory lap, when the victor gave the world champion a boost after running out of fuel. Just like practice predicted, the Yamaha man was one step ahead on pace but that did not stop Marquez from claiming the highest points total in a season – a record stolen from his current teammate. Dovizioso was tasked with fending off a resurgent Valentino Rossi all throughout the race and did so impeccably to climb onto the final podium spot.
The spotlight was firmly on Jack Miller at the start of the race, the Pramac rider making a lightning start to lead the way from Viñales and Franco Morbidelli, while Dovizioso and Marquez bolted off the line and were already ahead of poleman Fabio Quartararo by turn four. Viñales found the inside line on Miller in turn 11 to take the lead but was already getting Phillip Island flashbacks with Marquez his tail by lap two. However, the Honda man had trouble from the Ducatis of Miller and Dovizioso, the Australian reclaiming second soon after, with Rossi and Alex Rins still closely in the mix. Meanwhile, Morbidelli and Quartararo were losing ground alarmingly, the Petronas duo seventh and eighth by the end of the second lap.
Viñales was trying to replicate a familiar plotline and stretch a gap at the front, with some help from Miller who was holding up Marquez, and the Yamaha was over a second ahead by lap three. Marquez eventually picked up the chase at turn 14 and toughed it out on the straights, not allowing the Ducati to use its superior speed to fight back. Miller was soon pushed back at turn four by Dovizioso and a provisional podium of old was in the books. Also part of the chasing group were Rossi, Rins and Morbidelli, while Quartararo was struggling to keep up, seven tenths back.
Marquez was left with a one and a half seconds gap to make up on his Yamaha rival while another second ahead of Dovizioso but the lead trio were pretty closely matched on pace for the first few laps so the gaps were not coming down. Meanwhile, Rossi and Miller provided the entertainment in their exchanges for fourth. Once the veteran settled that battle, Miller came under fire from Rins and it was almost literal, the Spaniard barging into the Australian at the final turn and losing a wing in the process. Already unhappy with Rins for nearly running him off track in qualifying, Miller was not keen to let his rival past and defended admirably until lap nine.
Lap ten saw Viñales maintain his advantage in front of Marquez but Dovizioso had lost significant ground and was getting harassed by Rossi. However, the Italian had a hard time coping with the Ducati in the stretched out bits of the track and could not prepare a real attack. Two seconds back, Rins was showing the way to Morbidelli, Miller and Quartararo, while Johann Zarco was admirably holding onto ninth ahead of Danilo Petrucci and Cal Crutchlow. Meanwhile, Joan Mir was preparing to cause trouble for the British rider.
The final ten laps started with Marquez trailing Top Gun by almost two seconds and the gap continued to grow little by little. Rossi finally gave it a go on Dovizioso with eight laps left but it was only brief and the Yamaha man did well to just hang onto the Ducati given the difference in top speed. Rins was pushing hard to catch up with the Italians and bring down the one second gap to the podium battle, dropping the Petronas duo. Quartararo was nowhere near his pace from practice and made no progress from eighth place until Miller started shedding bodywork and positions. Miller and Zarco had some fun next, while Mir pounced on Petrucci and Crutchlow crashed out. Teammate Zarco was on route to saving the day for LCR with an excellent top ten but got a less than gentle nudge from Mir and crashed out with three laps remaining. Mir got rightly punished with a long lap penalty and dropped back behind Petrucci as a result.
The final three laps were the decisive time for the final podium place, Rins having caught up with Dovizioso and Rossi and planning an attack but the Ducati had it covered to the checkered flag. Vinales and Marquez were long gone and celebrating by the time the Italian got to breathe a sigh of relief in third. Rossi missed out on the podium but still got his most encouraging result in quite a while, holding off Rins for fourth. Morbidelli finished ahead of teammate Quartararo, with Miller, Petrucci and Mir rounding out the top ten.
Viñales’ victory puts him in prime position for third in the riders' championship but only seven points ahead of Rins. The teams’ title also rumbles on to Valencia, Repsol Honda/Marquez only two points behind Ducati.
|5||Johann ZARCO||Honda||4 Laps|
|35||Cal CRUTCHLOW||Honda||6 Laps|
|29||Andrea IANNONE||Aprilia||9 Laps|