(CNN)MotoGP arrived in Malaysia this week for what may be the deciding encounter in a thrilling campaign. But this Sunday's race could have been a much more compelling prospect.
Malaysia MotoGP: Marc Marquez eyes fourth title
Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, who headed the standings earlier in the season, endured a calamitous outing last weekend in Australia.
The 31-year-old ran wide in the early laps, sinking back to the rear of the field. He then carved his way methodically back up to 11th place, only to lose two places on the final lap and finish a particularly unlucky 13th.
From a riotously chaotic battle among a top six that included Yamaha's Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez pulled away for the victory.
In doing so the Catalan clocked up an imposing 33-point lead in the championship, and with just two races to go probably crushed Dovizioso's slender title hopes.
For the casual fan, the Australia GP was perfect in almost every detail. Five different riders led a race that seasoned observers instantly declared a classic.
Old time foes Marquez and Rossi exchanged paint in an early clash. MotoGP debutant Johann Zarco, who joined the grid as Moto2 champion this term, showed the scorn for reputation he has exhibited all year, with pass after aggressive pass on his more illustrious competitors. The highlight reel was intense, to say the least.
The only thing missing was Dovizioso. The fact that his lap times towards the end of the race easily matched those of the leading group only served to underline what might have been.
"Unfortunately, I lost a lot of points at Phillip Island and now my shot at the title appears to be compromised," the likeable Italian told reporters this week.
To put it in terms of another popular sport in Asia, Dovizioso is now left needing snookers.
But all is not lost for Ducati. This is MotoGP, where a small mistake can have extreme consequences.
What's more, this is Malaysia, where the circuit's intense demands will force riders to their physical and mental limits. It's also a track where, this time last year, Dovizioso recorded an impressive victory.
"I always think positively," Dovizioso added, "and we are here in Malaysia at a very challenging circuit, together with the heat, where I won last year and where anything can happen."
Marquez is taking nothing for granted.
"I knew that it was very important to get a good result in Australia and try to open a bit of a gap before Sepang, which is a demanding round, and where Dovi won last season," he told reporters.
"One of the main things is the humidity. And the high temperatures of course. I think it's one of the more difficult races from the point of view of the physical conditions."
For Marquez the math is simple: win the race and win the title.
His Phillip Island victory was the 61st of his career, his 35th in MotoGP, and his sixth this season. Incredibly, he is just 24 years old; a fourth MotoGP title would cement his reputation among the greatest riders of all time.
For Dovisioso, seven years the Honda rider's senior, there is only one way to approach the contest: "It's going to be a tough task, but at this point we must only try and bring home the best possible result, and we are going all out to do that," he said.
Whatever happens on Sunday, this has been a season of unprecedented success for Dovizioso, and one of considerable satisfaction for Ducati, which has not won a title since 2007.
Progress under Team Principal Luigi Dall'Igna is there for all to see; Honda shouldn't put the champagne on ice just yet.