Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez both do their best to unsettle each other in Free Practice 3. With Marquez shadowing Rossi before their final laps of the session and Rossi refusing to allow the Honda rider to trail him it was something that appeared more similar to a track cycling racing as riders wait to bolt into their sprint before their rival can react.
With Rossi refusing to let Marquez sit behind him and gain the benefit of a tow the championship leader backed right off...only for Marquez to do the same. This happened for the second half of the lap and both riders took over 1m40s to navigate the sectors.
It was a great spectacle of what it takes to unsettle a rival and the mental warfare between both riders has now been taken up a notch. The scene at Sepang was like that of a weigh in for a big fight with the protagonists squaring up to each other and waiting to see who would blink first. In Malaysia it was Rossi who blinked and he led the way around the final lap of the session.
This is just the latest instance of the now very public deterioration of their relationship that has evolved from Marquez famously being a fan of Rossi's as a child, to on-track rivals with a clear respect for each other to the currently sub-zero levels of cool from Rossi towards Marquez.
On Thursday Rossi said that Marquez had been playing with him in Australia and that the roots of the problem stem from the Argentine crash and last corner clash at Assen. Rossi went on to say that he wasn't sure that the respect that Marquez has claimed for him was genuine.
"Is it true that I was idolized by Marc? Is it true that he had the poster at home? I do not know," questioned Rossi. "I'm not sure I would to go see him. It is also a matter of character. And then I think Marquez is much compared to me. He wants to beat me on the number of wins, I want to win in the global number. So if I win another World Championship he knows he will have to win another World Championship to catch up."
For his part Marquez has said that he still respects Rossi but today in Malaysia was a clear case of jail yard mentality where you can't back down, you have to fight your corner and stand your ground. Marquez has never been averse to a fight on track but on Thursday he was visibly shook by Rossi's comments.
Speaking on Friday Marquez said:
"Only Valentino knows why he said this but like I say of course I understand and respect him, but he needs to beat Jorge on the track and I think Valentino is strong enough for beat Jorge on the track," said Marquez. "He is leading the championship by 11 points. He knows if he finishes just behind or in front of him he will win the championship, so he doesn’t need to be worried."
With a couple of days to come to terms with them he's now firmly entrenched in battle. The greatest rider of all time and arguably the fastest rider in the world are both ready to show each other that they're in this fight for the long term.
The forgotten man in all this is the only rider who can stop Rossi claiming a tenth title; Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard set the pace this morning and is riding superbly but given the chance to prod at Rossi he said what the majority of the paddock is thinking, "If he was fast enough to win these two races he would not say these kind of things because he would win the championship by more than eleven points. But maybe he’s afraid to get the championship a little bit more complicated because it’s not enough to fight mostly with Marc, me or Dani at these tracks. I think it’s a strategy, no?"
The biggest question about this sitation is why has Rossi takent the time to do this now. Why has he become focussed on Marquez when there's a world title to be fought out against Lorenzo? Why now...
Could it just be a question of motivation and being a way to get the most from himself? Rossi is a rider who has always needed an enemy to race at his best. Whether it was Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner or a wall between him and Lorenzo he has always needed someone to focus his attention so that he could feed off that energy and get the most from himself. With no such avenue available at Yamaha, the top brass at Yamaha have made it clear that they won't tolerate any issues between both riders any longer, this is likely just the latest avenue for Rossi to feed off the energy created by this type of rivalry.
It's also interesting however to see that having picked a fight with Marquez because obviously this will set the Honda rider's competitive fires burning long into 2016. Would anyone really want to give Marquez extra motivation? For his part Marquez has made it clear that he won't cede an inch on track and he's always beena rider willing to go to the limit to win.
Rossi has gone to the well once again to get the most from himself. But has he bitten off more than he can chew in Marquez? The similarities between both riders have been clear for years-a never say die approach and a hard charging style on Sunday's. It's why they have been in so many great fights-going right back to Marquez' premier class debut in 2013-but it's also why this weekend's spectacle has a certain degree of inevitability to it.
It's impossible not to think that this was the only way that their relationship would eventually develop into. You put two pit dogs into a ring a it's inevitable that they'd start biting and scraping at each other. The comments are barbed, the fight on track will intensify and this wee
The scene is set for a fascinating conclusion to not just this weekend but also the season.