Friday in Sepang bears Alex Marquez’s signature, as he set the best time in free practice, ahead of a very aggressive Martin by a tenth. After having recovered from his rib injury, which penalized him in the last stages of the championship, it's time for Alex to get back to pushing his Ducati to the limit. Meanwhile, contacts between Marc and Gresini seem to continue, off and on the track and, today, the Spanish rider was chasing his brother, in order to take advantage of his Ducati’s slipstream ...
“Sepang is a special track,” Alex said. “I won the title here, and I was always fast. In these past few races, I knew I could be competitive, but both in Thailand and in Australia, I was still recovering from my injury, and we also had some problems with grip. Since Misano, we’ve changed the set-up of the bike, and the sensations have improved a lot. When you arrive at a circuit like this, and you’re fast right from the first session, tackling the weekend becomes much easier. It’s an advantage that gives you the possibility to work less on the overall set-up and refine the details by pushing everything to the limit. Today, I was really convinced that I could do an excellent job, even when I had Marc and Marini chasing me. I just concentrated on my pace.”
So, you have no doubt about the choice of tire?
“I don’t think there’s going be much confusion. This year, the soft rear is considered medium, so I think everyone will veer towards this option for both the sprint and the race.”
What expectations do you have for the race? Where do you find some more margin?
“We started Friday in the best way possible, but we can’t let our guard down, and we have to keep our concentration high. Among the things that still need to be improved are the electronics, especially to better manage the final stages of the race. Tomorrow, we’ll see what the others are doing but, ideally, I’d like to remain in the lead along with Martin, like today.”
Could having done the tests here helped with today’s result?
“Not really, actually. Speaking with the electronics technician, I told him not to look at the test data that much. At the time, I was riding with a different style. It’s best to concentrate on the data from this second half of the championship.”
Another interesting aspect was seeing Marc closely following his brother during the session. Obviously, Marc denies having had any contact with the Gresini team, but the idea that he’s already moving forward in studying the bike is intriguing, to say the least.
“I think more than looking at the bike he was trying to get into the Q2, but it’s not something I’ve ever seen this year. I even saw an HRC guy and thought ‘what’s he doing here in the garage?’. Then, when I came out, Marc was there following me. It wasn’t a problem in the end, but the fact that he didn’t ask me made me angry.”
In the final stages of the championship there was also a lot of talk about team orders. What if you end up battling it out with Martin or Pecco?
“I race for an independent team, even if I’m on a Ducati, so I don’t think there are going to be any problems. In any case, they never asked us.”
Ending up in between two riders who are fighting for the tile is still a difficult situation to be in, with so few points that separate them.
“Obviously, they’ll be cautious, but there should always be fundamental respect between riders. If I were in their place, it would bother me too if someone ruined my race and put my title at risk. So, I totally understand their situation. At the moment, I think Martin has something more than Pecco but, if I were to end up between them, I’d do my own race.”