Maverick Viñales

Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Record-Breaking Pole, 7-Day Déjà Vu, Hard Fronts, And Viñales' Future

The thing about back-to-back races is that everyone gets faster. Or at least, that's the idea. With an extra weekend of data under their belts, the teams should have a pretty good idea about the ideal setting for the bike at a track, and returning to a circuit where they had raced a week before, the riders should be able to navigate every corner, bump, and braking zone with their eyes closed.

The track should be better too. With a weekend of motorcycle rubber on the track to replace the residue left by cars, there is more grip for the riders to exploit. The stars should all be aligned for everyone to be faster the second time around.

As it turns out, that is only partially true. Johann Zarco raised expectations in FP1, smashing the pole record set by Jorge Martin the previous week by over a tenth of a second. In FP3, both Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo dived under Martin's previous record as well, though they were still a ways behind Zarco's time. So in qualifying, surely Zarco's record would fall, and half the grid or more would be into the 1'22s?

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Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rain Wrecks Plans, Riding Wet And Dry, Helping Marquez' Shoulder, And The Binder Brothers

We know that the weather in the mountains is changeable, but Friday at the Red Bull Ring took the cake. A bright, sunny morning, with ideal conditions for riding – so ideal that Johann Zarco sliced another tenth of a second off the outright lap record in FP1 – and in the last ten minutes or so of FP2 for the Moto3 class, a few drops of rain, and then lightning, and a hailstorm in 30°C heat. The MotoGP riders went out on a soaking track, but by the time the session finished, it was almost dry.

Iker Lecuona seized his opportunity. The Tech3 KTM rider had been quick enough on wets, but at the end of FP2, he swapped to slicks, and banged in a time nearly 3.4 seconds faster than anyone else had managed. Jack Miller was the only other rider to stick a set of slicks in at the end, though he was not chasing a time, but trying to understand how the medium slicks would work on a track which was still quite wet.

"I just went out on the mediums to understand how they work in quite a lot of water on the track," Miller explained. "Because it's quite stop-start here, you're putting a lot of weight on both the front and the rear tyre, and the medium definitely feels better. So I just wanted to understand how quickly I could get them up to temperature and working, and they worked pretty good."

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Austria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Spielberg's Bad Vibes, A stiffer Front Tire, And Closer Second Races

The Red Bull Ring has faced much criticism in the six years since MotoGP started going back there, mostly about the safety of the riders on track. But one thing that gets overlooked is the circuit's propensity for generating drama off track. In 2020, we had Andrea Dovizioso announcing he would not be racing with Ducati again in 2021. In 2019, we had the drama with Johann Zarco splitting with KTM, with additional drama around Jack Miller possibly losing a place to Jorge Lorenzo, who would return to Ducati to take Miller's place at Pramac.

The year before, Yamaha had held a press conference in which management and engineers officially apologized to factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales for building a dog-slow bike that left them 11th and 14th on the grid. Spielberg was the place where Romano Fenati got into an altercation with the Sky VR46 Moto2 team, and was sacked in 2016.

So much discord and division. Perhaps the circuit is built on a conjunction of ley lines, or perhaps the Spielberg track was built on an ancient cemetery where the contemporaries of Ötzi were buried. Or perhaps the middle of a MotoGP season is when tensions generally reach boiling point. The latter explanation is the most likely, perhaps, though a good deal less entertaining.

Bouncing off the limiter

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Yamaha Suspends Maverick Viñales For Austrian GP For "Irregular Operation" - But What Exactly Did He Do?

Yamaha has suspended Maverick Viñales from participating in this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. In a press release issued today, the Monster Energy Yamaha said Viñales had been suspended for "the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider during last weekend's Styria MotoGP race".

According to Yamaha, this behavior was visible in the data logged by the Yamaha M1, and that data forced Yamaha to draw the conclusion that "the rider‘s actions could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race".

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Styria MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Randomness Of Restarts, Another Rookie Sensation, The Power Of Podiums, And Maverick's Electronics Woes Explained

Weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. Usually when people say that, they mean it as a bad thing, but it isn't necessarily so. Unpredictability swings in all possible directions, and means that just because something is likely to happen, it doesn't mean that it will. It was supposed to rain all day on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring. It did, overnight, and in the morning. Then it dried out, and we had a drying Moto3 race followed by dry Moto2 and MotoGP races.

Two MotoGP races, in fact. A very short two-and-a-half lap race, interrupted by a fiery crash and long delay, and then a completely new race – if a race is interrupted before the leader crosses the line at the end of lap 3, the race is restarted as if the first attempt had never happened, with everyone allowed to race and the same grid as set by qualifying – which was shortened by one lap, from 28 to 27 laps.

The red flag shook up the field, creating winners and losers, some riders getting a chance to correct earlier mistakes, others finding themselves struggling in the second race. There is a small element of random chance in every MotoGP race – a good thing, or else the outcome would always be entirely predictable – and the cards fall a different way each time the lights go out.

We'll keep the red flag flying here

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Styria MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, Yamaha's Problems In Mixed Conditions, And Filling Empty MotoGP Seats

In an ideal world, MotoGP teams can use practice to prepare for the race on Sunday. Test tires in FP1, make setup changes in FP2, finalize the setting in FP3 and FP4, then into qualifying to be ready for the race. In an ideal world, conditions are comparable enough through all practice sessions on Friday and Saturday to find the optimal setup choices for Sunday.

But we don't live in an ideal world, of course. Temperature differences and changing conditions leave a lot to a mixture of experience and guesswork. Even then, as long as you have dry weather, you can get pretty close.

That is not the case this weekend in Spielberg, however. FP1 saw excellent conditions: warm, dry sunny. Not too hot, and temperatures not far off optimum for the tires. But rain started in the afternoon, and FP2 was wet, with a drying line as the session went on. Data collected in the morning would be useful for a dry race. Data in the afternoon is contingent on the amount of rain that falls in the case of a wet race, which looks a racing certainty.

Ready for anything?

A wet race would render the data collected on Saturday pretty much irrelevant as well. Saturday in Spielberg looks set very fair, bright, sunny and warm. But the forecast for Sunday is the worst of all worlds: thunderstorms, with a chance of heavy rain.

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Assen MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Why Fabio Is Fast, Marquez Is Back, And What Joan Mir Needs Most

Though Maverick Viñales dominated the headlines at Assen – both on and off the track – there was a race to talk about too. For a deep dive into Viñales' situation, see the first part of my Assen review. But let's talk about the race, shall we?

Though Fabio Quartararo won the race comfortably, that is far from the whole story. How and why Quartararo won, how he got past Pecco Bagnaia, why Maverick Viñales couldn't catch his teammate, Johann Zarco's stealthy title campaign, Pecco Bagnaia's defensive masterclass, Joan Mir's strength and shortcoming, and Valentino Rossi's imminent and inevitable retirement decision. All this and more is worth talking about.

But let's start with the winner. Fabio Quartararo came into the race as joint favorite with his teammate, Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha riders had dominated practice, Viñales and Quartararo three or four tenths faster than anyone else, and Viñales holding a slight advantage in race pace.

Made for Yamaha

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Maverick Viñales' Wild, Weird Weekend, And How The Past Shapes The Future

I was supposed to have an interview with Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis this weekend, arranged well beforehand. That ended up not happening, unsurprisingly. Lin Jarvis had more important things to deal with than answering my questions. And my list of questions seemed a good deal less relevant this weekend than they had a few days earlier.

For this weekend was all about Maverick Viñales. Whether he, or we, wanted it to be or not. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider (but not for long) arrived at Assen after finishing dead last at the Sachsenring, topped both sessions of free practice on Friday, had an explosive meeting with Yamaha on Friday evening, secured pole with a blistering lap on Saturday, then found a way to only finish second on Sunday, well behind his teammate Fabio Quartararo. Oh yes, and there were the reports that he had signed for Aprilia for 2021 on Saturday night as well.

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Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Viñales' Bombshell Aprilia Move, A Wide Open Rider Market, And Who Can Stop The Yamahas?

Saturday at Assen only deepened the enigma that is Maverick Viñales. After being fastest in both sessions of practice on Friday, the Monster Energy Yamaha man added FP3 to his belt in the morning, then finished second in FP4. That result was a little deceptive, however: he started FP4 on a used soft tire with 15 laps, nearly two thirds race distance, on it, and put nearly race distance on it, ending with a couple of 1'33.7s. For context, the race lap record at Assen is 1'33.617, set by Marc Márquez on lap 4 of the 2015 race. Viñales' second run was on a new medium tire, assessing tire choice for the race.

Seven days ago, Viñales was just twelfth fastest in FP4, and qualified in 21st. The contrast could not be greater with Assen. Here, he qualified on pole position, smashing the lap record and becoming the second rider to lap the Circuit van Drenthe in under 1'32, after teammate Fabio Quartararo posted a 1'31.922 in his first run during Q2. Both Monster Energy Yamaha riders ended with laps of 1'31.8, Quartararo posting three 1'31s to Viñales' two. But it was Viñales who was the quickest of the pair, taking pole with 1'31.814.

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