Jack Miller

6 things we learned from the Malaysia MotoGP test

Ducati dominated the top of the timesheets, but Honda kept its powder dry as the riders sweltered across three sizzling days at Sepang.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

First days back at “school” don’t get much tougher than last week’s first MotoGP pre-season test for 2019 in Malaysia, where the riders and teams sweltered at a baking Sepang circuit where the track temperatures topped out at nearly 60 degrees – no misprint – on all three eight-hour days.

While we got an early read on the off-season developments of the teams and manufacturers over the break since Valencia last November, the brutality of the conditions also gave us some instant feedback on who had spent the off-season training hard to whip themselves into shape, and which riders didn’t quite manage to get the gym/nightclub balance just right …

All 11 teams and 21 riders – Repsol Honda star recruit Jorge Lorenzo sat out as he continued to recover after fracturing his left wrist in a January training accident – took to the circuit across the three days, with a raft of new aerodynamic parts sprouting from almost every machine, and the usual pre-season games of secrecy (closed garage doors) and subterfuge by teams taking place to throw their rivals (and the media) off as everyone tries to work out where they stand in the pecking order.

With three different manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha and Ducati) topping the timesheets after the three days, the pre-season picture remained murky as the clouds gathered over Sepang on the final day of testing, the heavens finally opening after a long week an hour after action wrapped up on Friday evening.

Who’s fast? Who has problems to solve? Who can be optimistic? Who will wish there was more time available before the 2019 season roars into life in Qatar on March 10? Analysing what really happened at Sepang requires more nuance and context than simply scanning the timesheets, so here’s six things we learned from Malaysia that might give us a sign of what’s to follow.

1. It’s wide open, but …

Reigning world champion Marc Marquez sat atop the timesheets on day one, while fellow Spaniard Maverick Vinales had Yamaha flying highest on the second day. On the final day, Danilo Petrucci led a Ducati domination at the sharp end as the test wound down. What can we read from that mixed bag? A little, with a lot of asterisks.

A little over two months removed from left shoulder surgery, Marquez wasn’t his usual gravity-defying self in Malaysia, but still managed to lead the way on the first day. Trackside, it was evident that building strength and stability in his left shoulder remains a work in progress, and he was more cautious than usual in some of Sepang’s sweeping switchback sequences, not daring to risk a crash that would set him back. Of course, because he’s Marquez, he was plenty fast enough, but he wrapped up each day early after 30-odd laps, choosing to focus on recovery while his rivals were churning out 70-plus laps a day in the scorching heat. “Of course, I would have liked to ride more but we had to take it a bit easy,” he said. “I’m happy because I was riding easy, not in my riding style, but I was able to ride more.”

Vinales was in an upbeat mood after Yamaha, which won just one race last season, looked to have started 2019 closer to the front than the equivalent test last year. “I made some laps behind our rivals, so I could compare how our bike is working, and it’s not bad,” he said. “There are just some small details left and that’s the most important. Last year they were some steps ahead, and now we are closer.”

The final morning of the test started under the shade of some rare cloud cover, and with track conditions more suited to a qualifying simulation run than tyre preservation in the baking heat, an impromptu ‘happy hour’ exploded into life, and Ducati made quite an impression. Six riders went beneath Lorenzo’s circuit-best time of 1min 58.830secs set at the Malaysia test last year, and four of them – the first four – were Ducatis, Petrucci’s 1:58.239 standing as the best time of the test.

Alma Pramac Racing rookie Francesco Bagnaia was a head-turning second, just six-hundredths of a second adrift, while his teammate Jack Miller (+0.127secs) and Petrucci’s stablemate Andrea Dovizioso (+0.299) rounded out the quickest quartet. As much as Dovizioso tried to play down Ducati’s pace afterwards with the usual disclaimers about it only being testing and so on, it was quite the statement of intent for the manufacturer that has finished runner-up the last two seasons.

Another reason for Dovi’s discretion was that we never saw Honda’s true pace, what with Lorenzo not in Malaysia, Marquez not at full power, and Cal Crutchlow taking his own (literal) tentative steps back from injury after snapping his ankle horrifically in practice at last year’s Australian Grand Prix weekend. Takaaki Nakagami, Crutchlow’s teammate, finished the test inside the top 10, but the Japanese was riding a 2018-spec RC213V, not the new model to be raced by Marquez and co. in Qatar in four weeks’ time.

2. Yamaha are on the way back

Vinales was the fastest Yamaha (fifth overall), and while factory teammate Valentino Rossi was five places and half a second behind at the end of the three days, the two sides of the garage were largely in harmony about the team’s engine direction for 2019, and the ground it has gained over the northern hemisphere winter.

“It’s good, because it’s the first test and we improved some things, but we have a lot of work to do,” Rossi said, calling Vinales’ day two time (1:58.897) “unattainable”.

“The gap is quite big, so we need time. I’m happy about the atmosphere and especially about the ideas inside the garage; it looks like Yamaha are very much concentrated on improving, so this is important.”

Rossi, who turns 40 on February 16, shows no sign of slowing down nor tiring of the constant attention he faces as the star attraction in MotoGP 19 years after his debut in the premier class. The off-season training is harder, but he’s right up for it. That said, the Malaysian heat was a wake-up call. “I used the used tyre a lot, but I didn’t make a long run because, f**k, it’s hot!” he laughed after the second day, when he turned 51 laps (more than two-and-a-half race distances at Sepang) before retreating into the air-conditioning.

3. Jack’s ready to make a splash

Miller looked fit and ready to fire in Malaysia, getting around the hotel on the day before the test in a replica singlet of NBA sharpshooter Steph Curry, perhaps a signal that he intends to be equally on target this season. The Aussie left his family Christmas celebrations early in Townsville to head to California for a month of tough training, where he indulged in his new favourite off-track sporting pursuit, cycling.

“The guys I ride with … they’re all strong, so some days you can go out there and feel on top of everything, and then another day they’ll push to a new level and you feel completely s**t,” he said. “It humbles you. They challenge you to be better.”

Miller was sore at Sepang, courtesy of a thigh haematoma from a motocross spill while out riding with Aussie dirt-bike star Chad Reed, but was very quick, finishing third on the second and third days of the test, and third overall. Things came in threes for the 24-year-old; he had a spill on each of the three days, the last one in the final laps of a race simulation on the last afternoon, but was happy to escape unscathed, and to see the easy speed he’s been able to unlock from the GP19 machine so far.

“I’m 24 now, have done the hard yards, have the experience and all of that,” he said of the season to come. “I think it’s going to be a good year, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

4. KTM doesn’t lack for ambition

Seemingly the busiest factory outfit at Sepang was KTM, the third-year team throwing a vast array of parts to test at 2018 returnee Pol Espargaro, new recruit Johann Zarco, and the team’s test rider Mika Kallio across the three days. Returns on the stopwatch were modest – Zarco was the best-placed of the trio in 17th overall – but Sepang was more about the Frenchman getting accustomed to the brutal acceleration of the KTM compared to the buttery-smooth satellite year-old Yamaha he’s been riding for the past two seasons.

Where Espargaro’s nature is to take whatever he’s given and quickly try to find its limits, Zarco is a more analytical rider, one who wants to understand what he has beneath him before unleashing his searing speed. It’s a contrast of approaches in order to achieve the same goal, and the camaraderie in the team, and the open relationship between the teammates, makes this look like a combination that can work.

Zarco has a two-year deal with KTM and feels the team will be in contention for bigger things in 2020, but he’s not backing away from a surge up the grid this season.

“I think it would be good to be around the top 10 in every race; this can be a possible target,” he said.

5. Rins is ready for the top step

Testing times can mask a lot; Alex Rins’ position on the overall timesheets (12th, 0.941secs off Petrucci’s best time) doesn’t look all that impressive until you dig a little deeper. The budding Spanish star, who finished the final six races of 2018 inside the top six to end up fifth in the championship, sounds and looks (courtesy of his blown-out hairdo) like a new man this season, and his race pace on old tyres on the second day – where he described his rhythm on tyres that had done 20-25 laps as “incredible” – raised eyebrows up and down the pit lane.

The Spaniard has mastered the Lorenzo-like quality of being fast without looking all that quick; trackside, it never really appeared he was pushing that hard until you checked the stopwatch, where he was routinely churning out 1min 59sec laps for fun in his race simulation.

Suzuki was one of two factories (KTM being the other) not to have a rider inside the top 10 after three days, but don’t expect that to last for long – and from Qatar, Rins should be in any conversation about potential race-winners at every Grand Prix.

6. MotoGP riders are a different breed

OK, we know this already, but the toughness of the 21 riders in such difficult conditions across three days has to be applauded, even for the riders who arrived in Malaysia fully fit.

Watching Marquez scurry from the Honda garage to debriefs and back trying to avoid over-enthusiastic fans from patting him on his tender left shoulder showed you the discomfort he must be in, while Crutchlow’s mangled right ankle looked red-raw at the end of each day, his first laps since breaking it at the Island quite the ordeal. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus every morning I wake up,” he said, adding: “when I’m on the bike I’m alright, it’s when I get off …”.

Ducati’s Tito Rabat, coming back to action after breaking his leg at the British GP last August, could barely walk before he got on the bike each day … and still did 175 laps across three days in conditions that weren’t exactly akin to a Spanish winter’s day in February. Yes, a different breed indeed.

Advertisements

‘It’s big stakes, but I’m ready’: Jack Miller talks 2019

On the best bike of his career and with big goals in mind, the Australian made an immediate mark at MotoGP testing in Malaysia this week.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Jack Miller didn’t exactly come into the first MotoGP test of 2019 in Malaysia this week with a spring in his step – a haematoma on his thigh courtesy of a motocross off while riding with Chad Reed in the off-season put paid to that – but mentally at least, the Australian feels he’s never been more ready for a season. Which, given the potential prize for getting said season right, is a good thing.

Miller’s name was close to the top of the timesheets right throughout the test at a sweltering Sepang, where riders didn’t so much blow away the off-season cobwebs as have them melt away – track temperatures nudging 60 degrees across all three days made this test one of the more gruelling back-to-school assignments imaginable.

The Alma Pramac Ducati rider’s week in Malaysia wasn’t without its hiccups – he had two crashes at the same corner (Turn 9) on the opening two days and fell at Turn 7 within two laps of finishing a late-afternoon race simulation on the final day – but his pace suggested there’s more to come from the Australian in his fifth MotoGP campaign. “I know I’ve got a lot more up my sleeve,” was an ominous throwaway line after the second day of running, where Miller used a blistering late lap to launch himself into the top three.

That prize we mentioned? A potential seat at the Ducati factory team for 2020, with Ducati sporting director Paulo Ciabatti saying in January that the marque has “three good candidates” to partner incumbent Andrea Dovizioso at the red squad for next year in either current factory rider Danilo Petrucci, Miller, or 2018 Moto2 champion Francesco Bagnaia, who embarks on his maiden premier-class campaign this year as Miller’s new teammate. Every year in MotoGP has been big for Miller to date, but this one carries extra weight.

After an eight-hour test day and a solid stint on the massage table, Miller took refuge in the air-conditioning to debrief with redbull.com.

redbull.com: You prepare for the new year as much as you can in the off-season, but how do you pull up after more than two race distances per day in Malaysian heat and on a track that’s nudging 60 degrees?

Jack Miller: It’s definitely hot in this part of the world at this time of the year – all the times of the year really – so it’s a positive that I feel pretty good from day one. Light massage, plenty of fluids, ice bath … all pretty standard recovery, but no more than that. Arms, legs, all of that pretty good for 50-something laps per day. If it wasn’t for the haematoma on my thigh I’d probably be jumping around …

You left Australia early to get into your training in California – was that a case of knowing that 2019 is a big one for you?

JM: Yeah, I got out there on the 28th of December last year, straight after Christmas back at home in Townsville, and that was the longest time I’ve ever been out there getting ready. Stayed an extra week, basically. Did a lot of cycling, mountain biking, some motocross, got off my phone a fair bit … just got the mind right. Some of the cycling with the guys out there, it was pretty full-on. So I’m feeling well prepared and mentally strong; that’s the thing with the cycling that has really helped me, the mental side of it. The guys I ride with … they’re all strong, so some days you can go out there and feel on top of everything, and then another day they’ll push to a new level and you feel completely shit. It humbles you. They challenge you to be better, and that’s good.

It’s a different build-up to the season for you, coming into it knowing you’ll be riding a current-spec 2019 Ducati, and having Ducati rely a lot more on you for technical feedback on the direction of the bike. Does that extra responsibility make things feel different for you?

JM: For sure, it definitely does. You arrive here at a test with actual items to test, a big old list, rather than just riding around adjusting set-up. You come to a test with a bigger purpose than just looking at doing a lap time. So that’s nice, you feel more a sense of involvement out of it, and you get to help decide the direction where your bike is going to go for the year. You feel more valued and that you’re making a contribution for the factory.

Let’s look back at last year; you came into it looking for 100 points and a top-10 finish and narrowly missed both, but there was a pole in Argentina and some really strong races like France, Argentina and Australia. Do you look back at the good points, or are you someone who dwells on the ones that got away?

JM: You see the positives now – things like Argentina, the qualifying at Misano (second on the grid) and Motegi (third), things like that. But you can’t just sweep away the negatives that happened, they were my mistakes and I have to learn from them – Misano, Motegi, a few other points where we really should have gone better. I left a heap of points on the table and that’s frustrating when you look back at it. I definitely feel more mature this year and more in a position to ride the factory bike the way it needs to be ridden, and make sure I take advantage of the times I put myself in a good place to begin races.

We haven’t even started this year yet, but there’s going to be focus on the second factory Ducati seat for 2020 with Danilo being on a one-year contract there, you on a one-year deal here, and Pecco coming in alongside you. Does that up the ante?

JM: People aren’t projecting too much about 2020 yet from the outside, but I’m projecting towards that, definitely. That factory seat is my goal, there’s no secret about that. It’s what I want. I have to start this season well, have a solid first few races and get some performances on the board early. Whatever I have to do to try to secure that spot, I will. It’s big stakes, but I’m ready for that. Start well, few mistakes, build from there and give it everything.

There’s a lot of Australian MotoGP fans very positive about what you can do this year, and where that might lead you as we just discussed – do you feel that?

JM: Definitely, I notice it all the time in the comments on social media, the Aussies you meet at the tracks, the testing, everywhere. Most of the time it’s really positive, people seem to want me to do well. It gets a little bit more, a little bit bigger every year, and you definitely feel it. The Aussies really want to see one of their own do well, and that definitely makes you feel good, I feel the love from home. I mean, there’s no excuses now. I’m in a good position. I’ve had a couple of really hard years physically and I’ve definitely done my apprenticeship, so I feel it’s about time I started giving them something to cheer about. I’m 24 now, have done the hard yards, have the experience and all of that. I think it’s going to be a good year, and I’m really looking forward to it.

6 storylines to watch in MotoGP for 2019

The new MotoGP season promises to be compelling, but what are the stories we can’t wait to see play out in 2019?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’re around a month away from MotoGP testing beginning in earnest for the upcoming season in Malaysia, but the turn of the calendar to 2019 only heightened the anticipation for what’s ahead. It’s a 19-race campaign where the schedule mirrors the one that preceded it, but elsewhere, it’s all-change as the world’s premier two-wheel category gets set for what’s sure to be a compelling season.

Everywhere you look, there’s storylines we can’t wait to watch play out. With just two teams retaining the same rider line-ups year on year, it’ll take some time get accustomed to familiar names in unfamiliar colours, while several riders face career-defining (or perhaps career-breaking) seasons, and there’s a host of exciting new talents set to strut their stuff in the big-time for the first time.

But what are the most compelling storylines for 2019? What really moves the needle on the excitement meter, and what has us intrigued? There’s plenty to choose from, but we’ve picked out a top six. Let’s count them down.

6. Who’ll be the rookie to turn heads?

Last year’s battle for the best of the new boys was close (for the record, Honda’s Franco Morbidelli edged Yamaha’s Hafizh Syahrin by four points for the rookie of the year title after 19 races), but not enormously compelling, given Morbidelli won it with 50 points for the season and a best race result of eighth place. This year? There’s four gun graduates from Moto2 set to step up, and there’s legitimate reasons to think each will have their time to shine.

Spaniard Joan Mir makes the move to the top flight after just one intermediate-class season and looks set to be on the best bike after replacing Andrea Iannone at the factory Suzuki squad, while Pecco Bagnaia’s progress at the Alma Pramac Ducati team will be watched closely on Australian shores, as last year’s Moto2 champion rides a Ducati alongside Townsville tearaway Jack Miller.

Elsewhere, a pair of new riders for ‘new’ teams will surely make their mark; Fabio Quartararo had a pre-world championship career so glittering that he was spoken of as the next Marc Marquez, and after breaking through for his maiden Moto2 win last year, joins Morbidelli in an all-new line-up for the start-up Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Also in a ‘new’ team, of sorts; perennial Moto2 front-runner Miguel Oliveira, who’ll ride for Tech3 as the French team switches from Yamaha to KTM machinery alongside Syahrin.

You’d back Mir to be the best debutant if you were down to your last dollar, but not with any great conviction – which points to an intriguing battle within a battle on the 2019 grid.

5. 2019 has to be Miller time

No MotoGP season is a small one for any rider, but 2019 shapes as a very big one for Miller, who goes into his fifth MotoGP campaign with a lengthy to-do list to check off. Item one is to see off Bagnaia, who’ll be riding a GP18 machine while Miller gets his first taste of current-spec Ducati machinery, riding the 2019 bike that will be campaigned by factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci. Two is to stay injury-free and on the bike more often, as Miller’s four years to date have seen momentum regularly interrupted by crashes that have led to squandered points or broken bones. Item three? Impress Ducati’s top brass to the extent that he’s considered for a promotion for 2020. Miller, who turns 24 later this month, isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, and while his speed isn’t in question, a top-10 championship finish has remained elusive so far. Can things change this season? Speaking of which …

4. Ducati’s big decision

What we know about Ducati’s factory team – Dovizioso is, quite appropriately, the Italian manufacturer’s main weapon in the fight against Honda and Yamaha, and the 32-year-old comes into 2019 off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the championship and 10 wins across the past two years. But with Jorge Lorenzo’s jump to Honda (more of which later), who is the best-placed rider to ride shotgun with ‘Dovi’ long-term? Is it Petrucci, who has a one-year deal with the team and is, as he said himself, betting on himself to earn a more lucrative payday by declining an option for 2020? Is it Miller, who has a race win (Assen 2016) and a pole position (Argentina last year) to his credit while not showing Petrucci’s consistency in their season together in 2018? Is it Bagnaia, who, at 21, won a world title in the lead-up to his premier-class career, something neither Petrucci nor Miller could manage? Or is it someone else entirely?

3. Which horse does Yamaha back?

Yamaha had, by its usual lofty standards, a tough 2018, where Maverick Vinales’ win in the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island was the only victory for the team all season. Yes, Valentino Rossi (third) and Vinales (fourth) featured prominently in the standings by season’s end, but their finishing positions were earned more through consistency and stealth in a campaign where Honda took 10 wins and Ducati seven to Yamaha’s sole success. Which means Yamaha needs to catch up – but how?

The past exploits of Rossi, who turns 40 in February, means he’s a legend of the sport. Vinales, 24 this month, is a junior-class champion who represents the future. On the basis of their post-season testing comments, both riders agree the bike needs improving to match it with the likes of Honda and Ducati, but have differing opinions on how; Vinales was happy with the consistency of the new 2019 engine, while Rossi felt the bike struggled to maintain pace as tyre wear became a factor, among other things.

Which rider will the team listen to most? Can Yamaha appease both while skewing its development direction more from one rider’s feedback than the other? Can whatever direction taken vault the team back into the fight for race wins and titles, rather than sporadic visits to the podium? There’ll be a lot of eyes on the blue-hued team in 2019.

2. Is Marquez beatable?

With five titles in six MotoGP seasons to date, Marquez casts an imposing shadow over the rest of the MotoGP grid. Qualifying speed, race craft, ability in flag-to-flag races, an appetite for the fight, gravity-defying saves … the Spaniard has the lot, and a consistency that means that, even on his off-days, he’s likely to finish on the podium. Yes, he crashes (Marquez fell 23 times last year, more than any other rider), but he rarely bites the dust in races; his first DNF last season came in round 17 in Australia, the race after he’d won the title in Japan a week earlier. Can anyone topple the 25-year-old from the summit?

1. Can Lorenzo beat Marquez?

If anyone can, could Lorenzo? After all, he’s on the same bike as MotoGP’s unstoppable force, ditching Ducati after a stuttering season last year where he barely scored points in the opening batch of races, rattled off three race wins and beating Marquez in a breathtaking head-to-head fight in Austria, and then spent most of the season half of the year absent or compromised with injury after huge offs in Aragon and Thailand. Lorenzo concedes he isn’t sure if can win a fourth MotoGP title in his first year on a Honda alongside Marquez, but you know he won’t be intimidated by the enormity of the task at hand, given he’s the only other rider to lift the championship trophy in the Marquez era after he won in 2015.

Season 2019 is Lorenzo’s biggest challenge yet, and his partnership with Marquez is, by some distance, THE storyline to watch.

Who won the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Who ended up as the alpha dog in all 12 MotoGP garages this year? We’ve crunched the numbers.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Some pairings of MotoGP teammates just work; each rider knows their place, they share information to make the bike better and their teams more competitive, and they operate for the greater good rather than individual glory. And some ‘teammates’ are that in name only, vying for the attention of their manufacturer, angling for a technical direction they prefer with their machinery, and doing anything they can to finish ahead of their stablemate with the same equipment.

There was evidence of both extremes in the MotoGP paddock this year (and you can come to your own conclusions as to who fits where), but while the approaches taken to tackle the season can vary, the stats (usually) show one clear outcome.

We’ve run the numbers for all 12 teams and 24 regular riders (not considering wildcards, one-offs or injury replacements) to work out who was top dog in each MotoGP garage over 18 races, and who will need to rebuild their reputations as we enter the 2019 campaign, where (remarkably) just two of the squads below will retain the same riders year-on-year.

In teams’ championship order, let’s go.

Repsol Honda Team

Dani Pedrosa spent six years as teammate to Marc Marquez at Honda’s factory squad before retiring at the end of the season, and while there were some high points (he won nine races in that time), 2018 wasn’t one of them. Marquez won his fifth world title in six seasons this year, but the size of the gap to his compatriot was bigger than ever; in the five previous years, Marquez out-scored Pedrosa by an average of 83 points a season, while this year, the gap was 204 points and 10 spots in the riders’ standings. Few pairings were more one-sided than this high-profile duo.

Qualifying H2H: Marquez 17, Pedrosa 2
Race H2H (both finished): Marquez 12, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (nine times), Pedrosa 5th (four times)
Points: Marquez 321 (1st), Pedrosa 117 (11th)
Podiums: Marquez 14, Pedrosa 0
Avg. grid position: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 10th
Avg. race finish: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 7th

Ducati Team

Remember we said the numbers don’t always tell the story? Context is everything when trying to separate Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati, the Spaniard’s final season in red before heading to Honda as Pedrosa’s replacement. Lorenzo’s two years alongside Dovizioso were tricky to manage, and the stats are just as hard to analyse. Lorenzo’s high points were arguably higher, but from the mid-point of the season, where he was either injured, compromised or absent altogether, meaningful comparisons between the two are impossible. It’s only fitting that a complicated fit between these two comes with a set of numbers that could be read both ways. Neither of them would be wrong.

Qualifying H2H: Lorenzo 8, Dovizioso 7
Race H2H (both finished): Dovizioso 6, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (four times), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 245 (2nd), Lorenzo 134 (9th)
Podiums: Dovizioso 9, Lorenzo 4
Avg grid position: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th
Avg. race finish: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Speaking of complicated … how do you split Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales? Rossi finished higher in the standings, but Vinales took Yamaha’s only win for the year in a disappointing season. Vinales had the one-lap advantage, but Rossi had unerring consistency. Both had the same number of podiums. Rossi seemingly always moved forwards in races, Vinales had to fight back after routinely dropping back in the early laps. At gunpoint, you’d say Rossi … just.

Qualifying H2H: Vinales 12, Rossi 7
Races H2H (both finished): Rossi 9, Vinales 7
Best result: Vinales 1st, Rossi 2nd
Points: Rossi 198 (3rd), Vinales 193 (4th)
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 5
Avg. grid position: Vinales 7th, Rossi 8th
Avg. race finish: Vinales 6th, Rossi 7th

Team Suzuki Ecstar

If races were held over one lap, this head-to-head belongs to Andrea Iannone, and it wouldn’t be close. At the mid-point of the season, the Italian held sway at Suzuki, even against the backdrop of his departure to Aprilia for 2019. But Alex Rins finished the season with a rush, ending it with three podiums in the final four Grands Prix. Rins still falls off too much – five non-finishes were as many as Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso combined – but the Spaniard’s Sunday scorecard against Iannone says plenty.

Qualifying H2H: Iannone 13, Rins 6
Race H2H (both finished): Rins 5, Iannone 4
Best result: Rins 2nd (three times), Iannone 2nd
Points: Rins 169 (5th), Iannone 133 (10th)
Podiums: Rins 5, Iannone 4
Avg. grid position: Iannone 7th, Rins 9th
Avg. race finish: Rins 5th, Iannone 8th

Alma Pramac Racing

Jack Miller himself will tell you he should have scored more points this season, with several strong qualifying showings in the back-half of the year going to waste with early-race crashes on Sundays. Danilo Petrucci scored more points, had a better best race result and started closer to the front on average than his Australian teammate, but how much of that was down to the rider and not what the riders rode, given Miller was on a 2017-spec Ducati while Petrucci rode a full factory ’18 bike for 18 races? Miller’s stronger second half narrowed the gap, but not by enough.

Qualifying H2H: Petrucci 14, Miller 5
Race H2H (both finished): Petrucci 9, Miller 4
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 144 (8th), Miller 91 (13th)
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Avg. grid position: Petrucci 7th, Miller 10th
Avg. race finish: Petrucci 8th, Miller 10th

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

This wasn’t supposed to be close, and wasn’t – Johann Zarco came into 2018 as one of the sport’s rising stars and delivered on that promise in the early part of the season, while Hafizh Syahrin was a rookie who came in late after 2017 Tech 3 rider Jonas Folger had to withdraw with illness. Zarco’s reputation as a demon qualifier produced an enormous gap between two riders at very different stages of their careers; the Malaysian was one of three riders never to beat their teammate on a Saturday, and one of four not to finish ahead of the rider on the other side of their garage on race day.

Qualifying H2H: Zarco 19, Syahrin 0
Race H2H (both finished): Zarco 14, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 158 (6th), Syahrin 46 (16th)
Podiums: Zarco 3, Syahrin 0
Avg. grid position: Zarco 6th, Syahrin 18th
Avg. race finish: Zarco 7th, Syahrin 13th

LCR Honda

This pairing will go around again in 2019 (as will Rossi and Vinales at the factory Yamaha squad), and while the numbers predictably have Cal Crutchlow well ahead of Takaaki Nakagami, there’s reasons to be optimistic for both. Crutchlow would have been on for a second top-five championship finish were it not for injury on his factory 2018 RC213V, while satellite bike-riding rookie Nakagami saved his best to last with a sixth-place finish in the Valencia finale, and then led the timesheets on the final day of testing for the season at Jerez. With good respect between the two, this is as close to an ideal pairing at a satellite squad as you can get.

Qualifying H2H: Crutchlow 16, Nakagami 0
Race H2H (both finished): Crutchlow 10, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 6th
Points: Crutchlow 148 (7th), Nakagami 33 (20th)
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Avg. grid position: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 16th
Avg. race finish: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 15th

Angel Nieto Team

Karel Abraham never beat teammate Alvaro Bautista in a race where both riders finished. Abraham never managed a top-10 result all season; Bautista had 11 of them, including a season-best fourth filling in for the absent Lorenzo at Ducati’s factory outfit in Australia. Abraham will still be on the grid, albeit at the lowly Reale Avintia Ducati team, in 2019, while Bautista found all avenues closed for him and jumped to World Superbikes after his best season for five years. Funding, as ever from the middle of the grid backwards, can prolong a career, or curtail one in an instant.

Qualifying H2H: Bautista 13, Abraham 5
Race H2H (both finished): Bautista 9, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th* (twice), Abraham 11th
Points: Bautista 92 (12th), Abraham 12 (23rd)
Avg. grid position: Bautista 15th, Abraham 20th
Avg. race finish: Bautista 9th, Abraham 17th
(* Note: Bautista finished fourth riding Lorenzo’s bike in Australia)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro spent more than 2018 as teammates; the former Moto2 rivals were together at Tech 3 Yamaha from Espargaro’s rookie premier-class season in 2014, where Smith was already entrenched, and moved together to KTM for the Austrian manufacturer’s debut MotoGP season in 2017. It took until the last race of their five years together for either (Espargaro) to make the podium (third in Valencia), and while both struggled with injury this year, the Spaniard’s top-three finish specifically and his Sunday ascendancy generally gives him the nod.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 8, Smith 8
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 6, Smith 2
Best result: Espargaro 3rd, Smith 8th
Points: Espargaro 51 (14th), Smith 38 (18th)
Podiums: Espargaro 1, Smith 0
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 17th, Smith 17th
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 10th, Smith 14th

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Don’t let the finishing positions of Aleix Espargaro (17th in the standings) and Scott Redding (21st) fool you into thinking the battle at Aprilia was tight this year. The Spaniard had double the DNF’s of his British teammate (six to three) but still scored more than twice the number of points, one-quarter of Redding’s tally coming in the final rain-affected race in Valencia. Summing up Redding’s final MotoGP season; the only GP where he out-qualified Espargaro was his home race at Silverstone … the race that never happened after rain caused its cancellation.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 18, Redding 1
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 9, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 6th, Redding 11th
Points: Espargaro 44 (17th), Redding 20 (21st)
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 15th, Redding 21st
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 12th, Redding 16th

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Both Franco Morbidelli and Thomas Luthi came into 2018 as MotoGP rookies, but that’s where the comparisons end. Morbidelli, the 2017 Moto2 champion, adapted well to the bigger bikes and scored 50 points to be named rookie of the year. Luthi, beaten by his 2018 MotoGP teammate to the 2017 intermediate-class crown, was the only full-time rider not to score a point this year, although he couldn’t have come much closer given his best results (note: plural).

Qualifying H2H: Morbidelli 15, Luthi 2
Race H2H (both finished): Morbidelli 12, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 8th, Luthi 16th (five times)
Points: Morbidelli 50 (15th), Luthi 0 (29th)
Avg. grid position: Morbidelli 16th, Luthi 20th
Avg. race finish: Morbidelli 13th, Luthi 18th

Reale Avintia Racing

The Ducati satellite squad fell from 10th in the teams’ standings at the halfway stage of 2018 to last at year’s end, which has everything to do with Tito Rabat’s season ending after 11 races when the Spaniard was hit by Morbidelli’s crashed Honda in British GP qualifying and suffered a horrendous triple fracture to his right leg. Teammate Xavier Simeon was nowhere near Rabat’s pace when they lined up together (although, in reality, far apart) on the grid, but at least the Belgian didn’t suffer Luthi’s fate, scoring his sole point for the season by coming 15th in Australia.

Qualifying head-to-head: Rabat 11, Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 15th
Points: Rabat 35 (19th), Simeon 1 (27th)
Average grid position: Rabat 12th, Simeon 21st
Average race finish: Rabat 12th, Simeon 18th

MotoGP 2018: Who was best in class?

Who shone and who stumbled? Who exceeded expectations or underwhelmed? It’s time for our top 10 riders of the MotoGP season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Change, the saying goes, is as good as a holiday – but why should you have to choose one or the other? While the MotoGP riders and teams take a well-earned off-season holiday after a packed 19-round schedule for 2018, we’re going to change how we rank their seasons here at redbull.com. Last year in this space, we ran the rule over the grid to come up with our top five riders of 2017. This year, at the halfway mark (or as close to as we could), we donned our school headmaster’s hat and handed out the mid-term grades. This time? Something different again.

A cast of 24 riders (in their ‘school’ photo above; nice hat, Jack …) began the 2018 season under lights at Losail in Qatar, and by season’s end in Valencia (counting wildcards and injury replacements), 33 riders appeared on the entry list and 32 of them raced (Loris Baz, drafted in as an injury replacement for Pol Espargaro at the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing outfit for Silverstone, never got the chance to race after that GP was washed out). But, with respect to 23 others, we’re whittling things down to a top 10 for the season that wrapped up earlier this month.

In conquering the tough task to come up with a top 10, we considered the expectations for each rider before and during the season, the competitiveness of the equipment they were riding, how they performed relative to their teammates or riders on the same machinery at other teams, and (of course) the points standings.

Three who didn’t make the cut: Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who, in his final year of a glittering top-flight career, couldn’t finish on the podium once where teammate Marc Marquez was the world champion, and ended 18 races 204 points behind his compatriot on the same bike.

Aussie Jack Miller, who had searing qualifying speed at times (five top-six starts and a brilliant pole in Argentina), but finished 13th overall after several costly crashes he admitted cost him “probably 40 points” in races, also misses. As does his Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci, who was the toughest omission; eighth in the championship for a second year running, Petrucci’s podium tally dwindled (four in 2017, just one this season), and riders who finished behind the Italian had higher high points.

From 10 to 1, let’s count them down – the best riders in MotoGP in 2018, and why.

10. Alvaro Bautista

2018 summary
12th in world championship (105 points), best result 4th (Australia), 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Bautista’s qualifying efforts were fairly blah – he made Q2 just seven times all season – but the Spanish veteran knew that points were paid on Sundays, and he mostly delivered on race days relative to riders on the same-spec GP17 Ducati; he finished 14 points and one place ahead of Miller, for example. A ride deputising for the injured Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Ducati team in Australia was a reward for effort, and Bautista took his best result for the season at Phillip Island on a bike he barely knew, a strong way to sign off on a nine-year MotoGP stint before heading to World Superbikes.

9. Andrea Iannone

2018 summary
10th in world championship (133 points), best result 2nd (Australia), 4 podiums, 14 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Like your riders to be more mercurial than metronomic? Iannone’s your man; the combative Italian is just as likely to qualify nowhere as he is to pull off a spectacular result like Australia, where he finished second. Ahead of Suzuki teammate Alex Rins at the mid-point of the season, Iannone finished 36 points behind the Spaniard by year’s end, and Rins finished one fewer race. Next year is likely to be tougher for Iannone as he heads to Aprilia, his third manufacturer in seven MotoGP seasons.

8. Johann Zarco

2018 summary
6th in world championship (158 points), best result 2nd (Argentina, Spain), 2 poles, 3 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
If this list was being compiled on the Saturday of the French GP weekend, where he sent Le Mans into delirium after qualifying on pole, we might have had Zarco in the top three; in the opening five races, the Yamaha rider had two poles, a pair of podiums and 58 points to be the standout satellite rider in the championship. After that? Crashing from his home race seemed to knock the wind out of the Frenchman, and he managed just 100 more points and a single podium (Malaysia) the rest of the way, only winning the independent team rider title because Honda’s Cal Crutchlow missed the final three races with injury.

7. Cal Crutchlow

2018 summary
7th in world championship (148 points), 1 win (Argentina), 1 pole, 3 podiums, 12 finishes in 15 races.

The verdict
We agree with the final standings here for Crutchlow, the combative Briton who likely would have enjoyed a top-five championship finish for the second time in his career had he not crashed and smashed his right tibia and ankle in a high-speed off in practice at Phillip Island in October. The Honda rider missed the final three races of the year, but was ever-present when he was onboard, making Q2 in every race bar France, finishing in the top 10 in all but one of the races when he saw the chequered flag (USA), and winning the chaotic GP in Argentina, keeping his head when plenty who should have known better lost theirs. Just five riders won races in 2018, and he was one of them.

6. Alex Rins

2018 summary
5th in world championship (169 points), best result 2nd (Netherlands, Malaysia, Valencia), 5 podiums, 1 fastest lap, 13 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
In our mid-season review, we hinted that there was nothing wrong with Rins’ speed; he just rarely stayed on his Suzuki long enough to show it, crashing out five times in the first nine races. From there on, the Spaniard was close to faultless, given what he was riding and who (Iannone) was on the other side the garage. Nine races, eight top-10 finishes and a pair of second places to round out the year in Malaysia and Valencia could arguably have him higher on this list, but those non-finishes and his qualifying speed (he beat Iannone on Saturday only six times in 19 attempts) have to be taken into account. It would surprise nobody if Rins wins a race, and soon, in 2019.

5. Valentino Rossi

2018 summary
3rd in world championship (198 points), best result 2nd (Germany), 1 pole, 5 podiums, 18 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Leaving a living legend in fifth place when he finished third overall? Hard to do, but easier to explain. It was Rossi’s first winless season since the dark Ducati days of 2011-12, and – remarkably – his first winless season ever on a Yamaha in 13 campaigns across two stints. That – and crashing out of the lead when a win looked in the bag in Malaysia – was the bad, but ‘The Doctor’ was the only rider to finish all 18 races, and his pole position at Mugello prompted the kind of spontaneous spectator joy only one rider at one Grand Prix could muster.

4. Maverick Vinales

2018 summary
4th in world championship (193 points), 1 win (Australia), 1 pole, 2 fastest laps, 5 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Vinales fourth and Rossi fifth? Shouldn’t these places be swapped? Yes and perhaps; the Spaniard gets extra marks for snapping Yamaha’s historically barren run with an emotional victory in Australia, and having Rossi’s measure in qualifying more often than not. Too often, Vinales would squander those strong Saturdays with poor starts on Sundays as he struggled for grip with a full fuel load, and the vast majority of his top-10 results came from fighting rearguard missions where he came on strong the longer the races went. Watching what direction Yamaha takes with its bike for 2019 for two riders who typically want different things from their machinery will be, again, an intriguing subplot given the age and stage of their respective careers; Rossi turns 40 next February, a month after Vinales celebrates his 24th birthday.

3. Jorge Lorenzo

2018 summary
9th in world championship (134 points), 3 wins (Italy, Catalunya, Austria), 4 poles, 2 fastest laps, 4 podiums, 11 finishes in 14 races.

The verdict
Reading a graph of Lorenzo’s results in 2018 should come with a health warning; you could put your neck out coping with the peaks and troughs of the Spaniard’s results over 14 races. It was a year of extremes for the three-time world champion; he managed just 16 points in five miserable races to start the season to sit 14th in the championship after Le Mans, and then won three of the next six races, running rings around the rest of the field in Italy before staring down and beating Marquez in a straight fight at the Red Bull Ring. Forty points behind Ducati teammate Dovizioso in the standings after France, he was ahead following Austria … and then scored just four points across the final eight races of the season, missing four of them altogether after a brutal practice crash in Thailand left him with right ankle and left wrist injuries. Joining Honda as Marquez’s new teammate couldn’t be more difficult than 2018 was … could it?

2. Andrea Dovizioso

2018 summary
2nd in world championship (245 points), 4 wins (Qatar, Czech Republic, San Marino, Valencia), 2 poles, 5 fastest laps, 9 podiums, 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Dovizioso was the runner-up last year too, but this time, the gap between the Ducati man and world champion Marquez was seismic, peaking at 102 points when Marquez won the title in Japan with three races remaining. Dovizioso crashing out of contention at Motegi on the second-last lap when locked in a one-to-one fight with Marquez sums up the past two years in MotoGP; the Italian is the only rider who has been able to consistently go with the Spaniard, but even that has its limits. Four victories and 245 points were two and 16 fewer than 2017 in those respective categories, while three DNFs and that crash in Japan (where he remounted and finished a crestfallen 18th) were most unlike a rider whom, until the past two years, was known more for his consistency and late braking than his speed.

1. Marc Marquez

2018 summary
World champion (321 points), 9 wins (USA, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, Aragon, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia), 7 poles, 7 fastest laps, 14 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
It could hardly be anyone else, could it? (Virtual) forests have been felled in the reporting of Marquez’s fifth title in his six premier-class seasons to date, so we’ll hit you with three numbers of note. One, he didn’t fail to finish a race until Australia, after he’d secured the title. Two, he had as many podiums as second (Dovizioso) and third (Rossi) in the standings combined. And lastly, no MotoGP rider crashed more than Marquez (23 falls in 2018, not to mention the seemingly weekly saves that defied logic and gravity, Catalunya the best of them). It’s a proven formula; spend Friday and Saturday finding the limit, occasionally step over it, and then dance as close as you dare to that line on Sundays without crossing it. The numbers – and the optics of how Marquez achieves them – suggests that it’s working.

Miller Time: There’s no reward without risk

Jack Miller writes about a Malaysian GP tyre gamble that could have been a masterstroke, but instead produced a familiar result at a scorching Sepang.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

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 GP19, for the first time in the two-day test afterwards, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll speak to you after that.

Cheers, Jack

Different, but same: Miller secures seventh at home

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

Different year, different approach, same result; that was Jack Miller’s assessment of his seventh-place finish in Sunday’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, which came 12 months after he finished in the same position at Phillip Island after dramatically leading for the opening four laps of the race.

Starting from sixth on the grid on Sunday, Miller made his customary jack-rabbit getaway when the lights went out to start the 27-lap race, storming past world champion Marc Marquez (Honda) into turn four on the opening lap to take the lead. Mindful of how his race pace faded after trying to break away from the front early last year, the Australian elected to pace himself on his Ducati, looking to preserve the life of his tyres for a late-race charge towards the podium. But it was a charge that never came.

Miller dropped back to fourth on the second lap of the race, prepared to bide his time in a front-running freight train of 2018-spec Honda, Yamaha and Ducati machines as he punched above his weight on his year-old bike. It was a planned strategy after “spinning the tyre off its head” a year ago, but he finished five seconds from the podium finishers and 6.7secs adrift of Spain’s Maverick Vinales, who broke Yamaha’s 25-race winless streak with his maiden Phillip Island victory.

“I didn’t lead as long as last year, but that was planned,” Miller said.

“I didn’t expect to be leading that early, but the opportunity arose and I put myself there, but really I was trying to save the tyre. For the first three-quarters of the race, the bike was really slow off the corners, and I was actually happy with that. I had a really dull (engine) map, the softest map known to man, and tried to preserve the tyre as much as I could. But it wasn’t enough, and I didn’t have anything to push with in the last laps.”

Miller looked set to pounce in the closing stages as Alex Rins (Suzuki) battled with Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi for fifth place, but ran out of laps to achieve his best premier-class finish at his home race.

“To have Rossi and Rins, the factory Yamaha and the factory Suzuki, right in front of me, that’s a good result,” he said.

“I expected a little bit more. It’s still seventh position like last year, so I’m not too happy, but on a bike that wasn’t in the top 10 here last year, I’ll take it.”

Miller was a constant presence near the sharp end of the timesheets throughout the Phillip Island weekend at a track where Ducati traditionally struggles. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on Sunday was just the second rostrum result for the Italian manufacturer in Australia since Casey Stoner won his home Grand Prix four times in succession from 2007-10, leaving Miller in an optimistic frame of mind before next Sunday’s penultimate race of the season at Sepang in Malaysia, which features two lengthy straights and numerous hard braking zones that play more to his bike’s strengths than the swoops and sweeps of Phillip Island.

“It’s nice to get back into the top 10 after my crash in Japan, which was my fault,” Miller said.

“It’s some momentum to take to Malaysia, a track where we’ve been in testing. I’m looking forward to comparing where we were in testing to now on the Ducati, because I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”