Maverick Viñales has always been something of an enigma. While his talent was beyond doubt, it was also mercurial, the Spaniard winning one week before riding around anonymously the next. When he had the tools he needed, he was unstoppable, winning 9 MotoGP races with both Suzuki and Yamaha. But if he didn't, he would struggle, go backward and end up frustrated and angry.
Throughout the period Viñales was at Yamaha, in the period when rider media debriefs were held in team hospitality units making it impossible to attend all of them, the small group of journalists I share debriefs with would draw straws for who would have to go to speak to Maverick Viñales. That was usually a depressing experience, sitting through Viñales' simmering frustration at not getting the results he believed he was capable of.
It was no surprise this would all come to a head, though I don't think anyone imagined it would end in such a dramatic fashion. Maverick Viñales was suspended by Yamaha after he stalled the bike on the grid in Austria, then in frustration, rode around overrevving it. A few days later, it was announced the contract Viñales had with Yamaha had been terminated with immediate effect, by mutual consent.
Since Viñales found a home at Aprilia, things have turned around completely for the Spaniard. Viñales is calmer, more serene, more content. Less easily frustrated, despite the result not quite coming as quickly as he might otherwise want. He has settled in to Aprilia to work, to grind out the learning process of adapting to a new machine, and slowly finding the pace he needs if he is to chase his ultimate objective: winning a MotoGP title.
That might have looked impossible at the end of last year, but Viñales has become ever more competitive through the 2022 season. At the Sachsenring, he was sat right on the tail of his teammate Aleix Espargaro as they battled for the final podium place until his rear ride-height device failed, getting stuck in the down position. And when he spoke to the media, it was not the old, angry, frustrated Viñales who faced us, but a calmer, happier rider who could see the potential of his bike, could see a road forward.
It has been a remarkable transformation, and a story I have followed with some interest throughout this year. In Barcelona, I sat down with Viñales to ask about this remarkable transformation. We talked about what changed in his life to give him a different perspective, how that has changed his approach to racing in general and to his role in Aprilia in particular, how his wife has brought stability to his life, and the challenges all young racers face, and must adapt to.
I started off with the biggest question which I had when seeing the transformation of Maverick Viñales. What exactly had changed? "It's a very good question," Viñales reflected. "I was just feeling I was not able to give my maximum. And there are certain results, like sometimes I was winning races in superb form and outstanding performance, normally winning by 3 or 4 seconds, or sometimes more. Arriving at the next track and being last. It's the kind of situation where you don't understand anything."
I reminded him of the Sachsenring 2021, where he had finished last, then gone on to Assen a week later and taken pole and finished second. As if that was hard enough to understand, throughout the weekend of Assen, there was a stream of rumors that Viñales was about to leave Yamaha, and switch to another factory, something which was confirmed over the summer break.
The radical change in fortunes between Sachsenring and Assen made no sense to us, the media and the fans, I told Viñales. It didn't make much sense to him either, he replied. "Also from my side!" It had been hard to deal with. "Day by day it gives you a lot of negative thoughts, because you don't really understand, you don't really know what's behind it. It's kind of difficult to keep believing in yourself when you see all these kind of things."
The stress of not knowing what to expect, not understanding why he was fast one week and nowhere the next, pushes him almost to think about stopping altogether. "At a certain point, I talked very clearly to myself," Viñales told me. "I said OK, if you continue like that, you will not race any more, because you will get burned out from racing."
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