If there is one thing that you need to ride fast around Phillip Island – apart from an appetite for scaring yourself silly, that is – it is confidence. You have to have blind faith the front will stick as you pitch it in to Turn 1 at 190 km/h, or slide the rear at 250 km/h plus through Stoner Corner. You want to be sure you’re going to make it through, because if you don’t, you’ll fall off at speed, and it will hurt. A lot.
Meanwhile, the elements are doing their best to sap your confidence. Gusts of 40 km/h or more are coming in off the Bass Straight at different angles, picking the bike up in some places, pushing it down in others, getting in under the fairing and trying to pull the front away from you. Clouds rush past, some sprinkling droplets onto your visor, others dumping enough rain onto the track to leave it soaked, most blowing over without leaving a mark. Cold winds suck the heat out of your tires.
When you’re in the zone, you can blaze around the track lap after lap, banging in times that should be good enough for the podium. But one misstep and you take a tumble. And one tumble is enough to shake your blind faith in the front end, plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. At other tracks, that might cost you a tenth or two. Phillip Island will find your lack of faith disturbing, and punish you with a second or more on your lap time.
That, in a nutshell, was the tale of qualifying. Marc Márquez is so confident at Phillip Island that he was able to punch in lap after lap during FP4, then toy with his rivals to take pole by a third of a second. Andrea Dovizioso was shaken by a crash in FP4, and that hit his confidence, and left him lapping slower in qualifying than he had in FP2 on Friday. With Márquez on pole and Dovizioso in eleventh, Phillip Island may have helped steal the championship away from the Italian.