Jack writes about a Malaysian GP tyre gamble that could have been a masterstroke, but instead produced a familiar result at a scorching Sepang.
It’s hard to know how to feel about my Malaysian GP, other than pretty bloody hot. I’m flying back to Europe in a couple of hours, so I’d better get a shower in first … But that’s now three years in a row that I’ve been eighth here, so you look for small victories. In 2016 and ’17, I was more than half a minute behind the winner; this time, it was 19 seconds. So, progress to some extent, but it’s hard not to feel a bit flat after being less than seven seconds from the front at Phillip Island last weekend.
It’d be hard to find two more different places than Phillip Island and Sepang, and that’s not just because of the conditions – the big jacket and beanie that I had last week at the Island never left the hotel here. It’s just a very different race track, a bit of fast and flowing stuff but mostly straights and heavy braking, at least at the start and the end of the lap. That’s normally a good sign for the Ducati and I was looking forward to the race as ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) had won the last two times at Sepang, including last year on the bike I’m riding at the moment. But it just never happened on Sunday.
All through the weekend I felt good, I was up there on the timesheets and made it into Q2 in third on the practice times, so I knew we had decent pace. Qualifying was a bit compromised because the rain delayed us for ages, and it was OK except for that I was a bit annoyed with the second row of the grid, I thought I had the pace for the top three but missed it by about two-tenths.
For the race, you have to get 20 laps right here and not just one, so we went for the medium-compound rear tyre, and I was the only one of us on the entire grid to race it, everyone else used the soft. We had a warm-up session on Sunday on a damp track still, so we didn’t do any laps on slicks on Sunday before the race. It was a bit of an educated guess for all of us with tyre choice, and mine didn’t work. I wanted to do something different because it was the hottest it had been all week, the track temps were up around 54 degrees before the race.
I got a good start again, up to third at the first corner and was able to run some good laps early, but I had to spin the tyre too much too early to stay with the front guys, and the tyre actually spun on the rim and it went out of balance, so I had this mad vibration for half the race. It got worse as the race went on. I had a big save at the last corner on one lap, I wore right through my leathers on my arm, not even the elbow slider, so it was a lucky save, for sure.
When you’re racing the factory guys, doing the same as them with tyres means you’re going to probably finish behind them because of the equipment they have. It’d become a game of follow the leader where you know where you’ll finish, more or less. If the medium tyre had have paid off for me today, it would have looked like a masterstroke. You have to try to do something different to come up with a different outcome. I’m not under any pressure from behind in the championship, there’s nothing to lose, so I thought I’d give the medium a go.
The only place I gained in the last 10 laps was when Vale (Valentino Rossi) crashed out from the lead near the end, which was a bit a surprise. So, the margin to Marc (Marquez, the race-winner) was better than the last few years, but I wasn’t really that happy with how it went.
We raced two hours earlier than we were supposed to after the start got brought forward because of qualifying being delayed for so long on Saturday, and it was the right decision because of the way it rains here. I don’t mind the conditions when it’s a bit mixed as you all know, but there’s not really such a thing in Malaysia as anyone who has been here knows, the rain comes down at a pretty crazy rate when it comes down. It goes from completely dry to unrideable in about two minutes. You can almost set your watch that it’ll rain in the middle of the afternoon here, so running the race earlier was the right way, it’s always been the right way. Maybe the Silverstone situation this year when we couldn’t race was a factor, you wouldn’t want to have too many delayed or cancelled races in one season. We got away with it fine and dry, so it was the right call.
It’s been a pretty massive three weeks with races each weekend, a lot of travel and of course my home GP, so I’m looking forward to getting back to Europe for Valencia in a couple of weeks, get some rest and then try to crack 100 points; if I can finish seventh or better (which is where I finished last year at that race), I’m there. And then I get to try my new Ducati for next season, the GP18, for the first time in the two-day test afterwards, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll speak to you after that.
This story originally appeared on redbull.com
Photos courtesy of Alma Pramac Racing