Marc Marquez raised eyebrows on Saturday at Sepang when he claimed not to have been singling out Fabio Quartararo during qualifying for the Malaysian MotoGP, prior to a nasty highside.

The eight-time champion had been tailing the flying Petronas Yamaha rookie throughout the opening qualifying run. The pair then pitted together, emerging back on track for the pole position showdown with Marquez again glued to Quartararo's rear wheel.

Quartararo glanced back during the out-lap, slowing and pulling offline in an attempt to allow the Repsol Honda rider to pass. However, the Spaniard didn't accept the invitation and remained just behind the rookie.

Jack Miller, Francesco Bagnaia, Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow also joined the train but as Quartararo blasted out of the final turn to start his hot lap, Marquez had a wobble, allowing Danilo Petrucci to get between them.

Appearing eager not to lose touch with Quartararo, Marquez outbraked the Ducati rider into Turn One and was back within a few bikelengths of Quartararo as he flicked his RCV into the following left-hander.

But disaster struck when Marquez's rear tyre kicked out and bit, pitching him straight over the handlebars and face-first into the asphalt.

Sepang team manager Wilco Zeelenberg was sure about what had happened: "Marc clearly tried to get into Fabio's head and he hit his head. I hope Marc's not injured, but he tried to get into Fabio's head because he knows Fabio is fast."

However, Marquez insisted he had not been targetting Quartararo and was actually looking for a slower rider to follow.

"In some circuits you are strong and some riders are following me, and in some circuits I just need to find another strategy," Marquez began.

"I tried to push alone in the first practice, but alone my lap time was 1m 59.4-59.3. If I have somebody in front, I was able to do 1m 59.0-58 high. But it was impossible to do a 1m 58 low like they did.

"Just this time it was Quartararo, but honestly speaking, I was looking for another rider, because it's quite difficult to follow him, because he's doing the lap time in a different way and it's not so good to follow him with the Honda.

"I was looking for another rider. But yes, this time the strategy was not the perfect one."

Quartararo went on to claim pole with a new lap record, while Marquez will start from eleventh on the grid, his worst qualifying since 2015.

"I'm OK. Of course, painful around all the body… it was a big crash," he said. "We set-up the bike to have a good rhythm, but we were struggling for one lap, especially in the change of direction and the bike was a little bit more unstable."

Crutchlow has previously warned that the Honda is more critical than some other bikes as far as building and keeping tyre temperature on an out-lap, meaning backing off to stay behind Quartararo might have cost Marquez dearly in the end.

But Marquez said: "The rear tyre was ready, because from T15 I was fast and I was OK... Maybe I changed direction a little bit too aggressive [at Turn 2], pushed too much. 

"Especially the Yamaha riders, when they have a new tyre, they are extra fast, and they can change direction in a very good way.

"I was behind Quartararo, he changed direction and I copied, but I just flew."

Nonetheless, "Honestly speaking, it's more disappointing to be starting from P11, than the crash."

Marquez knows he now has a fight on his hands to claim a twelfth win of the season and sixth victory in a row on Sunday.

"It will be difficult because this is not one of the best circuits for us. The only thing is that in FP4 [when Marquez was fifth] we had a good rhythm, but it will be difficult. It's not the same as starting from the front.

"We start from eleventh, we will try to do our 100%. The target is to try to arrive in the top five, and if it's possible, the podium would be perfect. But victory will be very difficult..."

Fellow Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales and Franco Morbidelli will join Quartararo on Sunday's front row.

Crutchlow was the top Honda rider in fifth place.