Miguel Oliveira might have won the 2017 race at Phillip Island but this year was a different story for the Portuguese rider after a tough race that saw him come home outside the top ten, but it wasn’t the disaster it could have been. Key rival Francesco Bagnaia also struggled, and in the end, Oliveira took some solace from keeping the fight alive and cutting the gap at least by a bit – one point.
Now, however, a week and a race later means the margins change again and Bagnaia arrives at Sepang with a 36-point advantage. To be crowned champion, he needs to be 25 points clear of his rival at the flag.
If he finishes ahead of Oliveira then, it’s game over – and he has a lot more room to manoeuvre than that. If Oliveira fails to finish or fails to significantly cut the gap, it’s an automatic check mate for the Italian and he’ll take the title. So, Oliveira will be gunning for glory with nothing to lose in his last stand at Sepang; as it is, it’s not enough to allow him to do anything but attack.
The guys sharing the track with the duel for the title could have a big say in the outcome too. Brad Binder was back on the top step last time out for his third podium of the season – all of which have been wins – and the South African beat Joan Mir to it by a fitting 0.036.
They’ll be riding high into Malaysia, as will the likes of Augusto Fernandez, who took a stunning fourth fighting for the podium, and Dominique Aegerter will take some heart from a much-improved race weekend in Australia. Lorenzo Baldassarri, Dynavolt Intact GP duo Marcel Shrötter and Xavi Vierge, and Alex Marquez all have serious pace too.