But in reality, Sepang was Morbidelli’s most competitive weekend of the year.

The Italian qualified a season-best seventh and settled into the top six in the early stages of the race, before having to serve two long lap penalties from free practice.

Those dropped the Monster Yamaha rider to 15th but he fought forwards to tenth at the chequered flag, only to receive a post-race penalty for clashing with Aleix Espargaro on the final lap, demoting him to eleventh.

Morbidelli also set the fifth fastest lap of the race, quicker than team-mate and reigning champion Fabio Quartararo, who completed the Sepang podium in third.

Without the penalties, Morbidelli felt a top five was possible, something he hasn't achieved since his last podium visit, at Jerez 2021.

“To come back from [the double long lap] and still take tenth place shows how strong his pace really was today,” said Monster Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli. “This was probably his best ride of the season.”

Morbidelli, title runner-up with three wins in 2020, has been trying to shift from his naturally smooth style to Quartararo-style 'aggression'.

The #21 explained that a ‘small change’ at Sepang had allowed him to do just that, releasing more corner speed from the M1.

“It’s something we have been working on for a lot of time. This f**king qualifying with new tyres, I've been struggling so much!” Morbidelli said.

“We started the weekend with a small change on the bike that gave me that ‘plus’ in the feeling, and then I knew I had to keep that aggressive style for qualifying and even step it up.

“This allowed me to make the bike work, this allowed me to be really quick and fast in the corners, which is the only area where we can do something.

“So I'm happy about that, I'm just happy that we managed to do it this weekend.

“I'm really looking forward to Valencia, to see if the improvements we had here, and the level we were able to maintain here throughout every session and every condition, [continue].”

For now, Morbidelli remains cautiously optimistic.

“I'm not certain. I cannot be certain about the future. But I can be really hopeful. And I can trust in the level that I was able to have this weekend. Which looked really good and really consistent and really quick... You know, usual Frankie.”

While Quartararo takes a very slim title chance into the season finale, Morbidelli is currently 19th in the world championship.

The pair will test the latest version of the 2023 Yamaha during the Tuesday post-race test at Valencia.