Italian rider Francesco Bagnaia had a day to forget at Sepang

Sepang (Malaysia) (AFP) - MotoGP leader Francesco Bagnaia will start Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix from ninth after crashing out, as Spaniard Jorge Martin clocked the fastest lap ever at Sepang to land pole position.

Ducati rider Bagnaia’s championship rival and title-holder Fabio Quartararo suffered even more and was only 12th for Yamaha in qualifying on Saturday.

The Frenchman crashed in final practice and sustained a small fracture on the third finger of his left hand. He was declared fit to race on Sunday, as he attempts to salvage his flagging title defence.

Prima Pramac’s Martin took pole with a scorching one minute and 57.790 seconds. Enea Bastianini was second, 0.456 seconds behind, with six-time world champion Marc Marquez completing the front three.

Bagnaia, who can win the title in Sunday’s penultimate race of the season, was more than a second off the pace and suffered his second crash of a bad day.

He had crashed out in third practice, but made amends by topping the first qualifying session.

The Italian was sixth in second qualifying when he crashed out on Turn 4 on a clear day at Sepang and will start the race from the third row.

“I am human and I am starting to feel a bit of pressure,” the 25-year-old admitted.

“I think it’s normal. For qualifying I wasn’t smart enough to understand my pace was good enough to be in the front row.

“I forced a lot in corner four and lost the front. I’m also sorry for Fabio because I think that the bad luck he is having is too much,” Bagnaia added of his French rival.

Bagnaia leads the championship by 14 points over Quartararo.

There are numerous permutations, but he will claim a maiden championship title if he takes the chequered flag and Quartararo ends up outside the podium in Malaysia.

Otherwise the title fight will go to the last race of the season at Spain’s Valencia in a fortnight.

Pole-sitter Martin was surprised with his latest feat, having also smashed the nine-year Phillip Island record to secure pole last weekend in Australia.

“It was hot and I didn’t expect to make this lap time. I’m still looking to see how I did it,” said the 24-year-old Spaniard.