The rocky relationship between Maverick Viñales and Yamaha has come to an early end. The Japanese factory announced today that they would be releasing Viñales from his contract effective immediately. Viñales is now free to start work with Aprilia, in theory at least.
The de facto sacking of Viñales is the end of a precipitous decline in the relationship between the two parties. The Spaniard signed on for two more years with Yamaha (for 2021 and 2022) very early, agreeing a new deal with Yamaha in January 2020, when Viñales was being hunted by Ducati.
Viñales had a difficult 2020 season, finishing 6th in the championship, though first of the riders on a 2020 Yamaha, and with one victory and two other podiums. 2021 started off well, with victory at Qatar, but the relationship went downhill from there. At Barcelona, Yamaha decided to switch crew chiefs, bringing in Silvano Galbusera to replace Esteban Garcia. At the Sachsenring, Viñales finished last, and in the week between the German and Dutch MotoGP rounds, he decided to leave Yamaha a year early.
Viñales returned in relatively good shape after the summer break, but a series of problems during the restarted race, including starting from pit lane, at the Styrian Grand Prix (Austria 1) left him frustrated. He took out his frustration by overrevving his M1 on the last four laps of the race, holding the bike in fifth and on the limiter on each of the Red Bull Ring's straights, an action which could easily have damaged the engine.
Yamaha took those actions extremely seriously, and personally. Japanese factories take a very dim view of intentionally damaging the bikes they build, and this seems to have been the last straw. At a meeting of the executive board in Japan on Thursday, the decision was taken to terminate the contract immediately. In effect, Viñales was sacked.
There are parallels with what happened between Johann Zarco and KTM in 2019. There, too, Zarco announced he wanted to get out of his contract a year early. And two races later, after Zarco had made some very critical remarks about the RC16, KTM announced they would be releasing him from his contract.
This feels different, however. At the core of the Yamaha-Viñales split is an absolute lack of trust and confidence, with neither party trusting the other. Viñales appears to have lost confidence in Yamaha much earlier this year, while Yamaha's frustration with Viñales has been growing since the beginning of the year. The Spaniard was brought in to Yamaha to replace Jorge Lorenzo and try to win the MotoGP title. Despite winning races, he has never looked like being a consistent title contender.
The move frees Viñales up to take the place of Lorenzo Savadori at Aprilia. Whether that happens remains to be seen: jumping straight off a Yamaha onto a very different motorcycle like the Aprilia RS-GP is no simple swap.
What teams and riders want to do when changing machines is to be able to take their time doing several laps at a time with no time pressure, to evaluate and understand a new machine. Three 45-minute sessions, one 30-minute session, and the pressure of qualifying and the race are a far from ideal environment for learning to understand a bike. However, if Viñales and Aprilia can approach it as getting an early jump on testing for 2022, that would reduce some of the pressure on him.
The sacking of Viñales leaves Yamaha with a hole to fill. The most obvious move would be to put Cal Crutchlow on the bike for the rest of the year, though that would disrupt the British rider's testing program, which is ostensibly why he was hired. Yamaha may face pressure to put Valentino Rossi on the bike for the final part of his final season in MotoGP. That would create a raft of complications, however, especially with sponsors of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, who were paying to see their names on Rossi's bike. Furthermore, with Petronas and Eneos (who sponsor Yamaha) rival oil companies, that would make it almost impossible contractually. Petronas could then use the second seat to test out some of their riders from Moto2 and Moto3 on the bike.
That might be unusual, but we have seen some extraordinarily unusual things in MotoGP this year. So we can't rule anything out.
The Yamaha press release appears below:
YAMAHA AND MAVERICK VIÑALES END 2021 AGREEMENT WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT
Yamaha and Maverick Viñales have mutually decided to advance their separation and end their previous 2021 agreement with immediate effect.
Gerno di Lesmo (Italy), 20th August 2021
After the Dutch GP (28 June 2021) it was announced that Yamaha and Maverick Viñales would bring their two-year contract for 2021-2022 to an early closure at the end of the current MotoGP season.
Following recent events at the Styrian GP and after deep consideration by both parties, the mutual decision was reached to separate with immediate effect.
LIN JARVIS - MANAGING DIRECTOR, YAMAHA MOTOR RACING
“In Assen Yamaha and Viñales already announced the mutual decision to cut short their original 2021-2022 programme and to finish it at the end of 2021. A commitment was made by both rider and team to continue to the end of the current season, with the team guaranteeing its full support and the rider giving his maximum efforts so that we could finish the project ’in style‘.
“Regretfully at the Styrian GP the race did not go well or end well and consequently after deep consideration by both parties, the mutual decision was reached that it would be better for both parties if we end the partnership earlier. The early separation will release the rider to be free to follow his chosen future direction and will also permit the team to focus its efforts on the remaining races of the 2021 season with a replacement rider – yet to be determined.
“I would like to express Yamaha‘s sincere gratitude to Maverick. Yamaha will continue to cherish the good memories and appreciate the work both parties put into the 4.5 years spent together that brought us 8 race victories, 24 podiums, and two third places in the 2017 and 2019 overall rider standings.
“We wish Maverick all the very best in his future endeavours.”
MAVERICK VIÑALES - MOTOGP RIDER
“Following our mutual decision in Assen to part ways a year early, it was also decided to commit to completing the current season with maximum effort from both sides. However, at the Styrian GP the race didn‘t turn out as we had hoped, and regrettably it did not end well.
“After thorough consideration both parties have agreed it would be best to end the partnership with immediate effect.
“I am deeply grateful to Yamaha for the great opportunity. I am also thankful for the support they gave me during these 4.5 years of racing and will look back with pride on the results we achieved together.
“I will always have great respect for Yamaha and wish them the very best.”