MotoGP: Five things to watch in Sepang

Valentino Rossi rounds the bend during qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit

Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

The Malaysian Grand Prix is the first match point of the season, and it is possible Valentino Rossi could claim the title in Sepang if he leads by 26 points or more after the race. Rossi goes into the race with an 11-point margin over Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

CHAMPIONSHIP-CLINCHING SENARIOS FOR ROSSI

If Rossi wins and Lorenzo does not finish in the top five.

If Rossi is second, and Lorenzo does not finish in the top 10.

If Rossi is third, and Lorenzo does not finish in the top 14.

ROSSI vs. LORENZO

The Yamaha Fight Club has now reached a tantalizing stage, with Rossi and Lorenzo both eager to deliver the decisive title-winning blow.  Despite public displays of respect and buddy talk, this pair has never been close friends and never will be.  Lorenzo has taunted Rossi with the claim that he is "not the fastest rider" in the wake of Rossi’s accusation that Marquez is supporting Lorenzo to win the championship. Lorenzo admits he has ‘nothing to lose" and beating Rossi is his only agenda.

Pedrosa takes pole in Sepang

ROSSI vs. MARQUEZ

Rossi has picked a fight with another supremely fast Spaniard, Marc Marquez. The love affair between the precocious new boy Marquez and superstar veteran Rossi is now over, following Rossi’s astonishing claims that Marquez raced to help Lorenzo at last week’s Phillip Island GP.  As a kid, Marquez had posters of Rossi on his bedroom wall. Now, Marquez has been so stung by Rossi’s criticism that he will find delight in beating his boyhood hero every chance he gets.

TURN ONE

The switchback turn one at the 3.44-mile Sepang circuit is one of the trickiest on the MotoGP calendar and could play a crucial role in the outcome of this race. The tight right-hander immediately sweeps left downhill into turn two, making a fast start, as well as brave, late braking moves key to gaining an early advantage. Title contender Jorge Lorenzo starts from fourth, but he is the sharpest starter on the grid, and he will put enormous pressure on front row riders Pedrosa, Marquez and Rossi in the early squabble for track position.

DANI PEDROSA

Pedrosa is virtually the forgotten man of MotoGP, lurking in the shadows while Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez grab the headlines. He is fast, talented and his blistering pole lap for this race makes him a favorite to win only his second race of the season. No one would be more deserving of the victory, but by a strange twist, a Pedrosa win would make Lorenzo’s title surge more difficult. It is Lorenzo who needs maximum points in his battle with Rossi in the points.