Prima Pramac’s Jorge Martin secured pole position with a new 1’57.790 all-time record at Sepang in a dramatic MotoGP qualifying session.
All three title challengers floundered in the closing stages with Pecco Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro crashing out and Fabio Quartararo saving a turn eight moment on his final lap. The trio lining up ninth, tenth and twelfth respectively as Gresini’s Enea Bastianini and Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez completed the front row for the Malaysian GP.
A dramatic qualifying day saw both Ducati Lenovo riders Bagnaia and Jack Miller facing the Q1 fight alongside Pramac’s Johann Zarco and eight-time champion Marquez. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Franky Morbidelli penalised with a double long lap penalty in Sunday’s race following his part in the FP3 controversy after running slow on the racing line and impeding the front runners while teammate Quartararo suffered a crash and left hand injury in FP4.
Q1 fired up with the threat of rain adding to the anxiety as Bagnaia led a pack of seven. Both Repsol riders firmly on the Italian’s tail as he registered the 1’58.895 benchmark with Miller just under two tenths adrift for second.
WithU Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow sat third after the opening efforts, half a second shy of the factory Ducati pairing with Zarco 0.085s behind. Friday hero Brad Binder circulating fifth from Honda’s Pol Espargaro and both Marquez brothers before Gresini’s Fabio Di Giannantonio arrived to fifth.
Binder was the next to climb as he dispatched the Brit for third. Bagnaia improving his advantage out front by a further two tenths while Tech3’s Remy Gardner found the limit at turn eight, from seventh in the standings.
The halfway stage found the Ducati garage deep in discussions ahead of the final push. Miller leading the pack away from this teammate with Bagnaia left to run solo in the closing stages. The Australian rolling out at the second sector with both Marquez brothers off track, the LCR rider down at turn eight and bringing out the yellow flags.
Di Giannantonio advanced to third still a quarter of a second adrift of the Ducatis as disaster struck the already injured Miller with a turn two highside in the dying seconds. A late charge from Marquez added further pain as he dropped the number 43 out of the promotion zone thanks to a 1’58.878 lap, with Binder claiming third in quick succession. A disappointed Zarco out of the action and down in eighth.
Mooney VR46’s Luca Marini led the early Q2 charge before Bastianini took over at the top. A 1’58.625 quickly bettered by Martin as the Pramac rider claimed a new all-time record with his opening shot, six tenths fastest than his fellow Ducati riders and just 0.21s shy of a 1’57.
Aprilia’s Maverick Viñales split the VR46 duo for fourth as Marco Bezzecchi dropped to fifth. The Italian circulating just seven hundredths faster than Bagnaia with Morbidelli neatly behind as Aleix Espargaro headed Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins and Joan Mir with Quartararo and Marquez floundering at the back.
Marquez tailed Bagnaia once again as the final action fired up. The Yamaha pairing waiting for clear track before setting out for their last run. Disaster striking the championship leader at turn four with two minutes to go as his push for pole faded in the gravel trap.
Quartararo faced his own turn eight scare with a minute left on the clock. The Frenchman securing his worst qualification of the season, in 12th, while third title challenger Espargaro also crashed out from 10th.
Martin continued his dominant run to pole with a 1’57.790 from Bastianini and Marquez. Bezzecchi, Rins and Marini collecting second row starts with Morbidelli and Viñales heading Bagnaia in the top nine.