Close to untouchable in the morning, Jorge Lorenzo's day fell in on itself in the afternoon as he was pushed off the front row in the dying moments of MotoGP qualifying by chief rival Valentino Rossi.
It was a contrast to the gallant Lorenzo of FP3. The 28-year old set an enviable pace, his final lap time over a quarter of a second under the year-old pole position record. Only Marc Marquez could get close.
Yet in the afternoon, as temperatures rose, Lorenzo's good work from the weekend began to unravel as an overheating front brake disc forced him to run a cover, meaning he then found it difficult to stop his M1 in Sepang's numerous heavy braking areas.
To underline the issue, Lorenzo suffered just his third race weekend crash of the year midway through FP4, losing the front while braking for the final corner. It was only natural, he later said, that your confidence suffers after this, forcing you to ride “a little bit more nervously.”
“I was very disappointed because of the problem with the braking and the bike today was very different to yesterday and this morning,” said the number 99. “Sometimes that happens though and now we'll try and find the problem and solve for tomorrow.
“We put some covers on the front brake for FP4 and I had some problems with the braking in FP4. We didn't think that the covers were the problem so we kept them for the qualifying and in the two laps I had this problem in the last sector. After you have a problem like this [that caused his crash] it's natural that you start to ride a little bit more nervously and you don't push as hard.
“To be honest the bike today wasn't very good in FP4 or qualifying, we don't understand yet what happened in braking and traction. Especially this problem with the brake was costing my lap time a lot. You don't trust, no? You don't trust for the next corner. You don't ride the same and you lose time in every corner because you lose some confidence. Anyway solving this problem and trying to adjust some things I think we can have a good pace like we had before this afternoon.”
Lorenzo was sitting third in the closing moments of Q2, only for Rossi to push him back a place and off the front row for the first time since Assen. His anguish was consolidated as he rode toward parc fermé, assuming he placed in the top three after seeing a TV screen mid-way through his slow-down lap.
Nevertheless, the rider who sits 11 points behind Rossi in a nerve-wracking championship climax was keen to stress that he feels confident of competing with the Repsol Hondas of Dani Pedrosa and Marquez in Sunday's race.
“I think in the morning I had a slightly better pace but Marc was close,” he explained. “Dani was so-so in the morning but with the hotter temperatures in the afternoon yesterday and today he was very strong. Let's see how the weather is tomorrow. Dani will be strong and so will Marc. I believe that I can be with them tomorrow in the race because the race is very long and maybe they won't have the same explosively for all the race as they have on this new tyre in qualifying.”
'Mind games' and verbal sniping have been as much a subject of debate throughout the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend as the action on track.
At the close of FP2, Rossi asserted himself on his team-mate, showing Marquez is far from his sole focus, riding extremely close to his front wheel as the Majorcan was stopped for a practice start.
“I don't know... it was really close,” the Spaniard said of the incident. “Maybe he wanted to see something very close from my bike.”
With stakes raised to such a level, Lorenzo also added he felt winning Sunday's 20-lap race is not essential, but finishing ahead of Rossi most certainly is.
“I don't have to win this race. We just need to finish in front of Valentino. Obviously if we can win the race or finish second it would be better. This is what we are going to try. We don't have anything to lose. We're going to risk and we'll see what happens.”