Valentino Rossi crashed out of the lead for what would have been his 116th Grand Prix win at today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, held at the Sepang circuit.
The 39-year-old Italian legend led the race from the green light and looked set to give his resurgent Yamaha team a second race win in a row, only to slide off on lap 17 of 20 and hand the win to world champion Marc Marquez. Suzuki’s Alex Rins passed Johann Zarco (Yamaha) on the final lap to take second.
Marquez had been chipping away at Rossi’s lead throughout a Grand Prix that lacked cut and thrust, but enthralled the huge trackside audience as they willed Rossi to what would have been a historic win. The Italian now has one race remaining in which to record a win in 2018, the season-ending Valencia Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, although he later explained that he is not expecting any miracles at the tight Spanish circuit.
He said: “It was a great shame because this was my best race of the season. I felt comfortable, I had a good pace, I pushed, and I had the chance to win, but unfortunately with four or five laps to go I fell – I don’t understand what happened. I made a mistake, because I crashed. It’s such a pity, but it still remains a good weekend, because we improved the setting of the bike. I think we have to do some more work, but it looks like we were able to use the bike in a better way in the last few races. This is good, but we have to see if we’re also strong in Valencia. It’s a difficult track for us in general, but we have to try.”
Marquez’ win gave Honda their 24thmanufacturer’s title in the premier class, and overall the Spaniard was happy with his day’s work. He added: “It was a hard race, first of all because I was starting from seventh place. I didn’t get a perfect start, and then my first lap was good but not one of the best of my career. Step by step, I overtook some riders and got to second place. I saw that Valentino was pushing and I started to chase him, lapping at qualifying pace! But in the process, I overheated the rear tyre; the front was also warming up quickly and the feeling wasn’t good. So for a few laps, I just tried to cool down and in so doing I began to feel better and better. I saw I was getting closer to Valentino and honestly that gave me extra motivation. At that moment, it was just a matter of instinct and pushing, something that you can do when you’ve already got the championship. Unfortunately, he made a little mistake in turn one, which is a shame as it would have been nice to see how the duel would have ended. Anyway, when I saw him crash, I just cooled down and focused on finishing the race. We won, and that was the best way to seal the constructors championship. I would also like to congratulate Jorge Martin and “Pecco” Bagnaia for taking championships. We’ll celebrate together in Valencia.”
Malaysia saw Bagnaia and Martin lift the Moto2 and Moto3 titles respectively, meaning that all championships have now been settled ahead of the Valencian Grand Prix.
For the Brits, Bradley Smith scored a point for 15tth on his KTM, but there was little to cheer for Scott Redding in his penultimate MotoGP race. The 25-year-old was the last classified finisher, 19th on his Aprilia. The Gloucestershire born rider moves to British Superbikes next year, racing for the Paul Bird Motorsport Ducati team. Cal Crutchlow missed the Malaysian Grand Prix due to injuries sustained in Australia the previous weekend.