While his stunning qualifying round may have suggested a repeat of the Phillip Island podium, Sepang proved something of a worst-case scenario – a combination of the RCV’s current technical weaknesses and his own diminished physical condition.
Marquez held onto fourth in the opening laps before dropping to seventh in the middle distance.
The eight-time world champion then fought back against future teammate Joan Mir and Alex Rins’ other Suzuki, but returned to seventh when he was overtaken by Ducati’s Jack Miller on the final lap.
“It was a long, tough race, but it’s what I expected because yesterday’s performance was not normal,” Marquez said of his heroic qualifying.
“You can do it in one round. But in the race I started strong and then immediately saw that I was losing [time] on the main straights and take too much risk.
“I felt [we had] a slow bike all weekend so you have to push more in the corners. For a single lap you can do it, but for a race distance the tire degradation gets bigger than usual.
“I was trying to find my rhythm. Mir and Rins were a little faster than me, but it’s what we expected.
“Today I made the most of it. It’s a track with the weaknesses of my riding style, but also the weaknesses of the bike. So today is one of the worst case scenarios.
“In the end I had zero grip because we pushed too much in the corners and used too many tires. And as a result I fought the bike and then more and more [against my] physical condition.
“I felt [physically] worse than the other races just because I fought the bike and used more energy.
“But even this way we finished 7th. Yesterday I said that our result or rhythm was between the 8-10th. We even finished seventh because Martin crashed [from the lead].”
Marquez added: “We are too far from the first man but the most important thing for me is that in the winter I was the slowest Honda here at race pace and today I was the fastest.
“It’s not my target [just] to be the first Honda, because my target always points forward. But it is always a reference that we are doing well.”
Marquez crossed the line 14 seconds behind race winner Francesco Bagnaia, whose Ducati he came within a fraction of second place a week earlier at Phillip Island.
“Here in Malaysia, if you don’t have an engine and you don’t have a grip on the rear, you can be Superman, but you can’t do anything,” said Marquez.
“The rear grip was there for one lap, but then I had it too much for the race distance.
“All weekend I didn’t feel the contact with the rear and this, plus on the straights that we lost too much, meant it was impossible to follow the Ducati.”
Honda ‘in delay’ with 2023 bike
Given Honda’s current slump – sixth and last in the constructors’ standings and the only manufacturer without a race win this season – Marquez has had one eye on the bike’s development in 2023 since last month’s return from arm surgery.
But he is still unsure whether a ‘2023’ engine will be ready for the upcoming test in Valencia after the race, on November 8.
“They still haven’t given me the schedule. I don’t know if a new bike is coming or not [at Valencia],” he said.
“We are already delayed because Misano [September] is when normally all manufacturers try the [new] 2023 bicycle. We are delayed and Honda knows we are delayed so we only have one chance [to get it right].
“I hope to try something interesting in Valencia… also because what you try [at the following test] in malaysia in february is the bike you will be racing with. You don’t have time to change it.”
Teammate Pol Espargaro was the second best Honda rider on Sunday, in 14th place.