On paper, Sepang was the best qualifying session of the season for Carlos Checa, the Spaniard finishing the hour long outing as top Yamaha - and second only to Valentino Rossi. However, a collision with team-mate Marco Melandri raised many difficult questions for both the Catalan and the FIM.

Checa was running at race pace when he caught up to the Italian, who was on his out lap after leaving the pits. With a vast speed difference between them, Checa misjudged the room available as he tried to dive inside Melandri, hitting him broad-side and sending them both tumbling along the asphalt.

"First of all I want to apologise to Marco for the incident," said Checa afterwards. "I was on race tyres and had a good rhythm, and saw some riders slowing down, and Marco was one of them. I didn't expect him to be in my line because I thought he had seen me coming a few corners earlier. He hadn't, and I just couldn't avoid him. Fortunately he is okay and hopefully he can still do well tomorrow."

"I was in front of Carlos and didn't know he was coming, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground," sighed Melandri from his side of the FYT pit garage. "At first I thought I had really hurt my shoulder, the one that has caused me problems ever since I dislocated it in Estoril in February. But now it actually feels okay and I'm sure it will be fine for tomorrow."

Normally, such an event would have been embarrassing for the team and riders, but little else. However, just six days ago at Motegi, Checa had been in a similar situation to Melandri - hit from behind by another rider and taken out.

On that occasion, Suzuki's John Hopkins outbraked himself into turn one - at the start of the race - collecting Checa and Troy Bayliss. Like Checa, Hopper also apologised, but the FIM made clear they were clamping down on such behaviour and banned Hopkins from this weekend's event, while Makoto Tamada was excluded from third after making contact with Sete Gibernau later in the race.

Both Hopkins and Tamada were punished because the race officials judged they had breached rule 1.21.2: "Riders must ride in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors or participants, either on the track or in the pit-lane."

At Motegi, Checa stated "I could have broken my leg or arm" when Hopkins offered his apologies and, in contrast to most, refused to condemn the Anglo-American's harsh punishment as a result of his feelings.

Now, in a reversal of roles, the FIM must decide if Checa - already warned after 'kicking out' at a marshal who tried to help him when he fell yesterday - also behaved 'irresponsibly' and 'caused danger' in his eagerness to overtake Melandri, in what was only a qualifying session after all.

With most of the MotoGP paddock - not least the riders themselves - unsure as to what is and isn't acceptable in the wake of the Motegi rulings, how the FIM calls the Checa/Melandri situation will be viewed with great interest.

"The most amusing thing today was watching Carlos Checa knock off his own team-mate Marco Melandri," said Proton KR's Jeremy McWilliams with a wry smile. "I'm waiting to see what punishment the authorities will apply, after the disqualifications at Motegi last weekend. Or perhaps you're allowed to knock your own team-mate off without being penalised."



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