A mysterious mechanical failure on the very first lap meant that Marco Melandri's planned World Championship party was put on hold, leaving Telefonica team-mates Fonsi Nieto and Toni Elias
to cruise to a formation finish in the 250cc Malaysian Grand Prix.
Yesterday, Nieto had thrown a spanner in Melandri's plans to clinch the 250cc crown this weekend by taking pole from the MS Aprilia star. Nevertheless, Melandri only needed to finish in front of Nieto today to wrap up the title with two races to go - but when the red lights disappeared it was Elias who led into turn one, with Nieto in second, just ahead of Melandri, with Rolfo fourth.
Nieto quickly put a move on his team-mate - only for the former 125cc ace to retake the position a few turns later, before Nieto did the job properly and promptly pulled away from the pack at a frightening rate, Realising this Melandri also put the hammer down and sliced ahead of Elias for second – but disaster was to follow…
Heading down the long straight before the last turn, Melandri suddenly sat upright and slowed with presumed mechanical problems – there was no visible signs of an engine failure – but whatever it as it was terminal and his factory Aprilia effectively 'died' soon after.
The young Italian kept remarkably composed (perhaps due to his championship lead still being a substantial 27 points despite todays DNF) and he was left to cruise around the next lap - while his MS team threw their pit board to the ground in frustration – before pulling into the pits and retirement. The party would have to wait.
Nieto found out about his rivals demise the next time he crossed the start line, while across the pit wall Melandri's unknown problem was being investigated by the very subdued works team who swarmed around the 250cc twin cylinder..
Meanwhile, back on track Nieto now looked to be cruising, safe in the knowledge that his team-mate was second – and holding a buffer over Rolfo – while Porto and de Puniet embroiled in a battle for fourth.
By lap 9 the question of team orders was raised with Elias now just 0.2secs behind Nieto – would he follow the his fellow Spaniard or be allowed to race..? If Nieto fell the title would go to Melandri there and then…
Although it seemed that Elias would be told to 'hold station' it was not quite that simple as Rolfo was rapidly catching the top two – setting the fastest race laps – and adding to the Telefonica teams dilemma.