Malaysia MotoGP: Vinales – Only Yamaha Rider To Score Wins In 2019

Yamaha's Maverick Vinales is the team's only rider to score race wins in 2019
  • Maverick Vinales of Yamaha was in a class of his own, breezing into the lead at the start of the race and then staying ahead all the way to the top of the podium.
  • Marquez climbed six places in the first two corners alone, and made up a total of nine places through the race.
  • Vinales’ win propels him to P3 in the riders’ championships, seven points ahead of Alex Rins of Suzuki.

All season long, we’ve been talking about the dominance of one man — the reigning world champion Marc Marquez. Interestingly, it was another rider who dominated the show at the 2019 Malaysian MotoGP in Sepang. Maverick Vinales of Yamaha was in a class of his own, breezing into the lead at the start of the race and then staying ahead all the way to the top of the podium. At the finish line, he was a full three seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Marquez.

Speaking of Marquez, the Honda rider had an eventful afternoon, climbing from his P11 starting spot to second place. Third place went to Andrea Dovizioso of Ducati after a spirited battle with Valentino Rossi.

Prior to the race getting underway, a moment of silence was held on the grid for Asia Talent Cup rider Afridza Munandar, who tragically passed away in a crash during the ATC race one on Saturday. Vinales later dedicated his victory to him, saying, “He was my favourite in the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup. I offer my condolences to all the family.”

What makes Vinales’ performance so sensational is that this entire MotoGP season has been extremely close — we can literally count the races where a single rider has led a race from start to finish. Vinales’ victory means that Marquez’s streak of five wins in a row finally ends. It was also a great outcome for Yamaha. It is only their second victory of the year, the last being in June in Assen.

Shared an exuberant Vinales, “It was an incredible race. We prepared for the race really well all weekend. I felt I had a big potential after the first lap. I took the lead after the first two splits and I kept pushing, pushing, and pushing. Honestly, I’m so happy. We did a good job. What a shame in Australia, because that was a race where I felt I had a lot of potential too, but being in the first place here is amazing.”

Yamaha Team Director Massimo Meregalli was all praises. “Breaking away from the rider field early on was his (Vinales’) strategy from the start, but it’s never easy. He executed it perfectly though. His riding was outstanding during the whole race, and to take the win by such a distance is incredibly rewarding,” Meregalli said.

Marquez still impresses

It was a roller coaster weekend for Marquez, but he still managed to come out on top. A nasty crash in qualifying meant that he was relegated to P11 on the starting grid — starting outside the top two rows for only the third time in his entire MotoGP career. However, in typical Marquez style, he was unstoppable during the race. He climbed six places in the first two corners alone, and made up a total of nine places through the race.

His second-place finish allowed him to claim the record for the most points in a single season: 395. Coincidentally, the previous holder of the record is none other than Marquez’s non-performing teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Marquez also claimed another record at Sepang — he is the first rider to score 17 podiums in a single MotoGP season.

He shared after the race, “It was an incredible race, a great first lap. Maybe the best of my career, alongside Mugello 2015 – I watched this lap last night to see what I did! It was a very nice first lap but unfortunately, the tyre dropped a lot in those first three laps and I lost a little time with Miller. Vinales was faster than us today and the target was the podium. I tried to do like in Phillip Island and stay right behind him but the gap was too big at 1.1 seconds and I made a mistake and dropped back.” Astoundingly, Marquez has finished no lower than second all season (apart from Austin, where he crashed out). That’s why it almost seemed laughable when he referred to Sepang as his “worst result of the year in second place,” adding that “we cannot forget normally here we struggle a lot.”

To add to the celebrations in the Marquez home, Marc’s brother Alex Marquez won the 2019 Moto2 World Championship. This means that the Marquez siblings repeat their unique feat of becoming world champions in the same year. “I am so proud of my brother. I am proud of him because it’s so difficult to be the brother of…(Marc Marquez),” Marc gushed. While we were all hoping to see the Marquez brothers battle it out in the premier class, that wish will have to wait a little longer. Alex failed to secure a MotoGP seat and will remain in Moto2 for 2020.

Dovizioso vs Rossi for P3, Quartararo disappoints

Dovizioso was like lightning off the line (as expected, the Ducatis were fast at the start) — Marquez compared him to a “rocket.” Watching Dovizioso and Rossi battle it out for the final spot on the podium was perhaps the most exciting part of the race. Rossi did his best to get past, but had to settle for P4. “I’m very pleased because it was the fastest race we’ve ever done at Sepang in the dry, and so we have to be satisfied with this result,” shared Dovizioso.

His Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci finished in P9, and explained that he struggled due to continued back pain from his crash last week in Australia.

The SRT Yamaha pair of Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli had a disappointing result at the team’s home venue. Both riders started on the front row of the grid, but quickly faded into oblivion – with neither even fighting for a podium spot through the race. Polesitter Quartararo was especially disappointed with the outcome since he had set lap records in practice and claimed a spectacular pole. Many hoped that Quartararo would finally win his first-ever MotoGP race, but the wait continues for the young rider as he could only manage P7. Quartararo mulled after the race, “(It was a) really tough race. I struggled a lot. First of all, my first lap was a total disaster. After that I was struggling a lot to stop the bike, to overtake was impossible.” Morbidelli finished P6.

A surprise performance came from Johann Zarco on the LCR Honda, who was riding brilliantly in the top ten till he was taken out by Joan Mir just three laps from the end. Although he did not get the finish he hoped for, his performance was strong enough to make a serious statement. Meanwhile, Lorenzo continued to struggle and finished P14. While Lorenzo already had a tough benchmark in the form of Marquez, Zarco’s emergence makes him look even worse. How long before the Honda stable makes some real changes?

Championship standings

Vinales’ win propels him to P3 in the riders’ championships, seven points ahead of Alex Rins of Suzuki. Behind them it is even closer as Petrucci, Quartararo and Rossi are all covered by just ten points. This is as close as it gets, with a rookie rider and a multiple-times world champion competing for supremacy! All eyes are on the Teams’ Championships, which still stands undecided.

Ducati’s factory team leads Repsol Honda by only two points. Will they be able to seal the deal, or will Honda make it a clean sweep of the championships? Meanwhile, Ducati have another fight on their hands for second place in the Constructors’ Championship, as only a single point separates them from Yamaha. With only one race to go in the 2019 season, it’s all to play for. Next up, the Valencian MotoGP.

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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