The Transformation Of Maverick Viñales: How The Pandemic, Marriage, And Aprilia Rekindled His Love Of Racing

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.

What changed?

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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This is a beautiful story to read, almost brought tears to my eyes. Probably because  it’s about human struggles in life that are at least partly recognisable. I was never a big fan of Viñales, but ever since he moved into the Aprilia team, he started to grow on me. Amazing transformation. Just seeing him smile in the pitbox is a pleasantly unusual sight, but he is visibly so much more balanced. I was especially struck by the moment at the Sachsenring when he arrived back in the pits with his crippled Aprilia ‘Race Glide’, greeting his mechanics as saying ,,The bike was great, we’re getting there!” What a contrast with one year ago at the same track.

Exactly, that was such a sign of good spirits in that team! Great to see, and very rare in general - let alone for Viñales in particular.

I feel he could do really well in Assen. The track suits him, it seemed to suit the Aprilia in previous years, and at the Sachsenring he finally managed a decent qualifying, a good start and great first laps. That may get interesting in the second half of the season, with Aleix in the title chase and Maverick chasing his first Aprilia podium and ultimately a first win. Ideally, he'll take points off Quartararo, but he could be taking points off Aleix as well... But first let's see if the upward trend continues.

Is responsible for a whole lotof the good in Aprilia, but after watching the interview with Albesiano the other day, he and the rest of his team have all massively contributed to this. The bad days Sam Lowes had to bear are well past now. How would it have been if The Maniac had not been banned? Who knows, but their progess is accelerating week after weekand, its great to see. If Mav starts beating Aleix, what will happen?

Very much appreciated David.

Many of us motomutterers have commented negatively, awaiting the next temper tantrum that Mac would throw. To provide this wonderful and very very candid insight into his psyche is fantastic. How wonderful to hear him speak about how he surrounded himself with “yes-men” and has learned from that. And how he was perhaps unaware of living in the spotlight. Freely (probably incorrectly) interpreted as in that us motomutterers were using all his outbursts to paint a picture while he was unaware that people were paying attention.

Utterly satisfying piece of journalism this.

Well done,it can be very lonely at the top, where you are your own biggest critic. Mav has learned this and how to manage it. Everyone at every level has struggles, the successful ones learn how to put it into perspective and how to put the hurt and bad things away and not think about them anymore. Don't look back, you are not going that way.

As usual, top notch, or as we say in South Africa, "Uit die boonste rakke uit!" Nice to see that Maverick is realising the most important part of a racer is what is between his ears...  Lets hope that Maverick can get to the front on a more regular basis and that the bike doesn't let him down too often. Assen will be a good test for him if it stays dry.... Picking a winner at a wet Assen can be very difficult!

B Binder, Oliveira or Jack for the win, no? What does everyone think?

I'm one of the few people (apparently) who started following Maverick from the outset of his MotoGP career. He overachieved on the Suzuki, and, despite his reputation as a mercurial talent, he was consistent, with just 2 retirements his rookie season and only one during his sophomore campaign. The tale of agony and ecstasy didn't start until he joined Yamaha as Vale's new understudy. During those years Mav enjoyed the ecstasy of relatively regular wins and podiums, mixed with the agony of unforced errors and bogus results, while occasionally being beaten by his own understudies.  

I wasn't surprised when it all ended with Revgate. During Vinales tenure at Yamaha, no one was consistent on the M1. The bike was a problem, and Yamaha kept denying it because there was always some rider on a streak of wins or podiums, but it was never the same rider, and it was never sustainable for a season. I wasn't surprised when it all came crashing down as Mav rode around Austria with the bike bouncing off of the rev limit.

At Aprilia, Maverick's form is perhaps slowly returning. While the results of his sessions are wildly inconsistent, his race results are not. He's basically always in the 7th-12th band. Germany was his best pace and first DNF, though it was a mechanical, not rider error. Currently, Vinales is performing best at low grip circuits, particularly in elevated temperatures. We'll have to see if he can return to form of if Aprilia is the end of the line.

Mav's first season on the Yamaha was pretty consistent. Both Mav and Rossi were consistent in 2018. Mav spent a lot of his Yamaha career with good qually, drop 300 places on lap one and end the race in the top 5 with the best pace of the field. Until 2020 only Rossi and Mav won any races on the M1. For Rossi that was only 1 win in 2017. Consistency wasn't really an issue until 2020, previous to that Rossi and Mav were consistent but usually not fast enough to win. I think it was 2018 that Yamaha made the big public apology in Spielberg after qually. Considering the first half of 2017 looked impressive I guess we could say it took one season before they publicly apologised to Mav and Rossi for the bike's lack of performance. That's a huge massive deal for a Japanese company. The Yamaha come back from the dark days was on...if they were that dark at all. In 2019 the first half of the season was a bit messy but Mav had good form in the second half. It's Yamaha, just like Honda, you have to think back then...what is a bad day for Yamaha ? Looking at a lot of their results between 2017/2020 and translating them into 2021/2022 they did a good job. However, back then, not being the main challenger to Honda and Marquez, playing 3rd to Ducati was a disaster...a European bike ! Also didn't seem to be the way it looked at the beginning of 2017. Mav blitzed the testing, 3 wins in the first 5 races, 2016 both Yamaha's had been challenging in the points until Motegi...coming 3rd was not what they imagined, Mav was supposed to be the young Spaniard who could beat the Young Spaniard. I think the frustration at the lack of results boiled over when a young Frenchman turned up, beat him on the same bike and the whole deal realigned away from Mav. I think most people here follow all the riders most of the time.

I forgot about Yamaha's public apology, but that's probably because they didn't follow up. Starting in 2017, top Yamaha riders routinely scored similar numbers of podiums and finishes outside of the top 8 (including retirements). In my opinion, the only thing consistent about the M1 since 2017 is its inconsistency regardless of the rider. 

Since 2002, the riders champion has finished outside of the top-5 the following number of times (DNF's): 2002 - 1(1),  2003 - 0(0),  2004 - 2(2),  2005 - 1(1),  2006 - 3(1),  2007 - 1(0),  2008 -1(0),  2009 - 2(1),  2010 - 0(0),  2011 - 1(1),  2012 - 2(2),  2013 - 2(2), 2014 - 3(1),  2015 - 1(1),  2016 - 3(1),  2017 - 4(3),  2018 - 4(2),  2019 - 1(1),  2020 - 5(3),  2021 - 5(1),  2022 - Fabio currently at 3(0).

Since 2016 the top Yamaha rider has been outside of the top-5 (DNF): 2016 Valentino - 5(4),  2017 Maverick - 8(2),  2018 Valentino - 7(0),  2019 Maverick - 9(4),  2020 Franco - 7(3), 2021 Fabio 5(1). 

Fabio is the most consistent rider on the M1, but his performance relative to the recent past is still subpar. It's a new era, with ride height devices and wings stuck on everything. Maybe this is the new normal, and the future will reveal that Fabio is a model of consistent riding. Until then it just looks like Yamaha are well wide of the mark since Michelin returned to the premier class. 

Rossi 2018, highest finish 2nd, lowest finish 19th. Three of those finishes involve a crash, Argentina (Marquez collision), Malaysia (dropped it T1, running 1st, 4 laps to go), Valencia (wash out was looking good to challenge for the lead until red flag and a spill after the red flag). So excluding those obvious outliers you are left finish 2nd and lowest finish 8th in a total of 15 races. Of those 15 races four were outside of the top 5, five were podiums, four 4th place finishes, two 5th place finishes...pretty good.

More consistent than Fabio in 2019 and 2020.

It's just where they finish. A rider can finish between 12th and 8th for the entire season...they are then consistent. If a rider wins half the races in a season and an even spread of top ten finishes for the other half then they are not as consistent. Also, you tend to see more consistency the higher up the field you go because the lower you are in the race the more riders there are ahead of you with the potential for an early shower. This, independently of their 'speed', gives a boost in the finishing order. Take Rossi last year, very consistently slow relative to the rest of the field, finishing position up down up down, not consistent...the ups were usually caused by other riders dropping it. I do not want to look it up but it's probably a given that Rossi gained 10 times more places than Fabio due to other riders retiring.

It doesn't matter it's a crazy conversation. I just meant to point out that in terms of results Mav was pretty consistent until 2020. Words have many uses and Mav never consistently delivered the 'expected' result given his FP performances but his finishes were actually pretty consistent.

Glad to see Mav turning things around. I had honestly given up on him. Hopefully he can get back to his winning ways soon. Aprilia is a great redemption story.

If the situation was as bad as has been implied? Why would Yamaha do the same? I guess Yamaha must have still seen something in Vinales, hoping that he would increase his tally of 9 wins and 19 podiums as he was always the king of testing. 

Many say a change is as good as a rest so maybe the fact he was sacked, got married, had a child was a huge change for him plus the realisation that if he couldn't get the Aprilia to work he would be out of MotoGP as they have been seen as a last chance seat?  I think in the pre Rivola days he would have found it very hard going as i don't think Albesiano liked the role that was thrust upon him as he seems to have softened in the last few years.

Great article for telling us who MV really is! His last experience with Yamaha was probably the best thing that ever happened to him career wise. He learned a lot about himself and found a good home. The article paints him as very happy with where he is in his life and surrounded by the best people he knows. He's doing a good job with Aprilia and he gets on well with his teammate. Meanwhile Aprilia goes from underdog to fan favorite! I love how this story is playing out for MV, Aleix, and the Aprilia MotoGP team. Motomatters seems to be the only place to get quality rider interviews. This one is the best yet!

Added video bit with Paolo expressing Maverick's needs from the Team around him and why w Amy in an "Inside The Paddock" interview before the Catalan race. 

Start at 6:40, end at 8:40 (what he says in the middle is relevant)

I've said everything I'd like re Maverick. But David Emmett is at a FANTASTIC level of journo performance right now. Doing interviews with the top people of distinctly high quality? I've been a fan since his entering MotoGP. On song, thank you SO much David! Neil Morrison too. 

Mr. Emmett's statement earlier in the year that he'd be concentrating on in-depth stuff rather than just reporting is working out brilliantly.

Pithy questions in the pre/post official pressers too. 

We have an insider at center of the circus! VIVA MOTOMATTERS and DAVID EMMETT!! Alien Journo.