The last few drops of rain turned the critical final timed practice before qualifying into a tense shootout in the closing stages as the field tried to gain direct places for the Q2 session later this afternoon.
Having taken first place from the start with a time of 1m59.167s in the combined order to rise from 11th after Friday’s race, Bagnaia found himself on the cusp of the top 10 as the closing moments of FP3 began. .
Thick, gray clouds hovering over the Sepang International Circuit caused raindrops on the track as Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin rocketed to the top of the queue with just under five minutes to go with a time of 1: 58,583.
The rain caused a frantic push for laps as the field built up at various points around the circuit, creating traffic problems.
Bagnaia was furious when he ran into a factory touring Yamaha of Franco Morbidelli at Turn 5, forcing the Ducati rider to check and Marc Marquez behind to abort his lap and narrowly avoid contact with the championship leader. .
With just under two minutes remaining in the 45-minute session, Bagnaia found himself clinging to the back of his main title rival, Fabio Quartararo, as the pair lit up the timing screen.
But Bagnaia crashed at Turn 8 trying to keep up with the Yamaha rider, which quickly put the Italian in a danger zone as a series of improvements began to happen behind him.
Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose/Motorsport Images
Martin’s 1m58.583s would keep him top of the order and safely into Q2, while late improvements from Suzuki’s Alex Rins and Morbidelli propelled Bagnaia up to 11th and into Q1.
Marco Bezzecchi was second on his VR46 Ducati ahead of Maverick Vinales’ Aprilia, while Luca Marini was fourth on his sister VR46 Desmosedici.
Joan Mir safely made it to Q2 on his Suzuki, with Gresini’s Enea Bastianini the main championship contender in sixth ahead of Quartararo.
Rins’ late improvement pushed him up to eighth ahead of Aleix Espargaro, the Aprilia rider who salvaged a difficult weekend by following Martin on his final fastest laps to secure a crucial place in Q2.
Morbidelli completed the top 10 but is currently facing an investigation into his late blocking of Bagnaia and Marquez, and the direction of the race is likely to be tough for the Italian after he got in the way of teammate Quartararo. at the beginning of the session.
Bagnaia’s crash proved hugely costly as he was denied a place in Q2 because nothing else had set an identical time of 1m59.167s to Morbidelli, although the Yamaha rider stole the gear by virtue of his next lap being longer. faster than the Ducati racer.
The championship leader will join a volatile Q1 session later today that will include Marc Marquez who was 16th at the end of FP3, Pramac’s Johann Zarco, Friday’s leader Brad Binder (KTM) and team-mate of Bagnaia, Jack Miller.
Worsening conditions at the end of FP3 caused several drivers to crash, with LCR Honda’s Alex Marquez and RNF Racing’s Cal Crutchlow in 17th and 19th as a result of separate spills.
Honda’s Pol Espargaró crashed twice in FP3 and was 21 as a result, with Gresini and Tech3 rookies Fabio Di Giannantonio, Raúl Fernández and Remy Gardner also falling from their bikes during the session.
Complete FP3 results