After struggling to get within one-second of Fiat Yamaha team-mate and title rival Valentino Rossi for most of Saturday's qualifying hour at Sepang, a late burst from Jorge Lorenzo at least saw the young Spaniard secure second on the grid.
But having being left 0.569sec behind Rossi and confused by a reduction in grip means Lorenzo is in need of overnight set-up improvements if he is to threaten for victory in Malaysia on Sunday.
Rossi holds a 38 point lead over Lorenzo and will be crowned 2009 champion one round early if he has an advantage of 25 points or more at the end of Sunday's race.
"Today hasn't been my best day and I have found things quite hard,” admitted Lorenzo, fastest on Friday but only fourth on Saturday morning. “The conditions are basically the same as yesterday so I can't blame them, but we just don't have the same levels of grip and confidence that we had before and it's hard to understand why.
“We didn't make the step we expected and we are lacking pace compared to our rivals. Now we all need to study the data and work out what we can do for the warm-up tomorrow. I am happy that we were able to be back on the front row as this will be important, now we will just try our best to be in better shape for the race.”
"Unfortunately we still need to find an improvement to our rear grip levels for the race, because at the moment we are not in perfect shape,” confirmed team manager Daniele Romagnoli. “The team have worked a lot to try to fix the problem but we still have more to do. Tonight we will have a good look at the data and try to find a way to give ourselves a better chance, then we will use the warm-up to try a few things."
Barring another DNF, Lorenzo should at least secure second in the world championship on Sunday, since he holds a healthy 37 point lead over Casey Stoner (Ducati) and 43 point lead over Dani Pedrosa (Honda).