To the surprise of only the most innocent, the sunshine of FP4 turned into puffy grey clouds and a burst of rain mere seconds before the green flag waved at the end of pitlane to mark the start of the qualifying session. The bravest or the reckless were out first, practice overlord Andrea Iannone, world champion Marc Marquez and local favourite Jack Miller the first lining up to the lights to take on the challenge. Despite the sketchy conditions changing nearly every other second, the track appeared dry enough in the early part of the session to allow some competitive times to be set.
Marc Marquez was hardly a surprise as the fastest man straight out the gates but he did not have it all his own way. Iannone and Johann Zarco demoted him the second the Spaniard allowed himself a breather, although there was no holding back the world champion, Marquez finding the right time to snatch his fifth consecutive pole position at Phillip Island.
Always the bridesmaid, Maverick Viñales went for a two stop strategy but could not do any better than second to Marquez on his second run before the rain flags came out for the final couple of minutes. Riders were still going around waiting for the right moment to attack, if it was to come, but the brave few who found red and orange sectors in the first half of the track also encountered rain drops, twitches and slides in the second bit. Viñales was one of them but had to settle for second on the grid, three tenths of a second down on Marquez.
Zarco added another Yamaha to the mix from third place, half a second off pole but only seven thousandths of a second keeping Iannone on row two. The Italian would have been disappointed to miss out on the front row but will find comfort looking at the breakdown of his terribly consistent race runs. Alex Rins was best of the peloton, only one place behind his teammate and with Miller completing row two as the final man finishing within a second of the poleman.
Valentino Rossi opens an all Italian row three and will be showing the way into turn one to Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso. Hafizh Syahrin made the best of the opportunity afforded to him and qualified tenth, ahead of the two Q1 survivors. Pol Espargaro only just snuck into Q2 but eventually did one better than Alvaro Bautista, who escaped a fast crash early in Q2 and will complete row four. Karel Abraham got admirably close to Q2 but will start as best of the rest in 13th.