Emotions were running high at Sepang in Marc Marquez’s camp for a multitude of reasons and despite the major matter of the MotoGP world title fight being decided long ago the Malaysian Grand Prix demonstrated the light and the dark sides of the eight-time world champion.

The 26-year-old could have been excused for a restrained Malaysian round at the final leg of a gruelling triple-header with the most vital components of his dominant 2019 campaign completed having sealed the riders’ title back in Thailand along with the constructors’ crown for Honda in Japan.

But one thing that’s never been doubted about the Repsol Honda rider is his desire to win, and tendency to pick out a fight, and with one eye on 2020 an undercurrent rose during qualifying when Marquez stalked Fabio Quartararo throughout Q2.

The Spaniard denies deliberately seeking out Quartararo, despite seeing the Petronas Yamaha rider produce lap record pace in practice and look certain for pole position, but as he continually rolled off the throttle behind the MotoGP rookie to stick tight to his rear wheel to the point it became a standoff it made his case somewhat contradictory to his actions.

It had also been a tactic deployed by Marquez at circuits where he hasn’t been favourite, following Andrea Dovizioso during qualifying at Mugello in the same way, but the strategy backfired when he suffered a painful highside off throttle at Turn 2.

Marquez looked to brush off the incident through gritted teeth as he nursed injuries and a bruised ego, with many onlookers claiming a psychological win for Quartararo. Time will tell in 2020 if that comes true but Marquez did little to gain plaudits from his bending of the rules with calls for grid penalties for touring on track during qualifying completely justified.

With his qualifying crash resulting in 11th place, Marquez wouldn’t be denied as he produced a stunning scythe through the pack to briefly reach second place at the end of opening lap.

While Marquez dropped behind Jack Miller for a lap-and-a-half, which proved costly by allowing Maverick Vinales to bolt clear at the front, the reigning MotoGP world champion demonstrated what makes him the best rider on the grid by comfortably finishing on the podium ahead of the rest to maintain his incredible record of finishing in the top two at every race expect when he crashed out while leading at Circuit of the Americas.

What followed in parc ferme and his subsequent media interviews may not have been a surprise, but the gravitas and thoughtfulness demonstrated by Marquez showed he isn’t afraid to lift his head out of his personal bubble in the heat of the moment.

Less than two hours earlier Marquez was on the side of the Sepang circuit revelling in his brother’s Moto2 world title triumph and it looked like he took greater joy from seeing Alex Marquez succeed rather than his own historic feats achieved in 2019.

But even before that, moments after feeling the full force of his qualifying crash and the fallout from it, tragedy struck at Sepang when Afridza Munandar was killed after an incident during the opening race of the weekend in the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup.

Marquez had links to the young rider who lost his life having been in contact with him through Astra Honda during his promotional visits to Indonesia.

Munandar’s passing became another reminder of the ever-present dangers of racing.

And moments before his parc ferme interview with MotoGP’s pitlane reporter Simon Crafar, Marquez composed himself with team communications manager Hector Martin before delivering a heartfelt tribute to Munandar. 

Speaking to the media after the race, Marquez eloquently opened up on the loss of Munandar and how it acts as a stark reminder to all riders about the risks they take every time they go out on track.

“Munandar was a young talent, a young rider from Indonesia and I knew him from Astra Honda and we spent a lot of time there. It is incredible but we cannot forget that everyone here knows and realises the risks that we take on track.

“We take the risks to arrive at the sweet moments and to achieve our goals. When we achieve our goals, we need to enjoy it.

“Today we are enjoying it for him because he was looking for these moments. He was pushing and riding for his passion and he will always be the most special rider of the GP.

“Today a sweet moment arrived for my brother and a sweet moment for me but of course Munandar was also looking for that. In the end he lost his life, we lost him, but he was riding for his passion and this is the best thing. Rest in peace.”

A divisive figure in MotoGP circles, Marquez demonstrated a humility the sport needs from one of its leaders when tensions and rivalries can often turn sour with certain sections of fan groups often celebrating a rival’s fall or misfortune.

As the tragic news of Munandar’s death spread through the paddock, many were also reminded of the dreadful day at Sepang back in 2011 when Marco Simoncelli passed away due to his injuries sustained in a track collision during the MotoGP race.

The shared grief saw the sport unite in support of each other and Simoncelli’s family with the Italian’s memory living on through his father Paolo’s SIC58 Squadra Corse team.

The Asia Talent Cup riders provided their own tribute to Munandar by opting to go ahead with Race 2 at Sepang on Sunday after a one-minute silence, while the rider’s number 4 was retired from the series by organisers at the end of the weekend.

While serious accidents remain a risk for all riders, Marquez’s words represented the feelings shared by riders up and down the paddock and even with the constant spotlight focused on him it is admirable to see the reigning MotoGP world champion use his standing to send a message of support during a dark moment for the sport.

 

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