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".
Though Yamaha would not expand on this statement when asked, the behavior they are referring to is clear from reports by people at the track, and is visible in the lap times. Photographers present in that part of the circuit say that for the last four laps or so, they heard Viñales leaving the bike in fifth gear at the end of the straight, and only changing up into sixth just before Turn 1.
This explanation of events is clear from the lap chart. Below are the lap times from the analysis PDF on the MotoGP.com results web page, with the last four laps highlighted. You can see that especially in Sectors 1 and 2 – containing the end of the front straight, the climb up the hill to Turn 3, and the sections between Turns 3 and 4 – Viñales is on average nearly 2 seconds down than on his laps at a more 'normal' pace.
You can also see that his top speed – measured just before Turn 2 up the hill – is nearly 30 km/h down, a consequence, most likely, of either poor drive out of Turn 1 or holding the bike in fifth rather than changing up into sixth. From his times, it looks like Viñales was holding the bike in lower gears for much longer than necessary on just about every straight on the track.
|Lap #||Time||T1||T2||T3||T4||Top speed|
Why would a MotoGP rider deliberately mistreat their engine? The relationship between Viñales and Yamaha has been souring for a long time. The Spaniard has repeatedly expressed his frustration with the bike and with the team. Yamaha tried to fix the problems Viñales was having by changing crew chiefs, bringing in Silvano Galbusera instead of Esteban Garcia, but that was only a temporary fix.
After a dramatic result at the Sachsenring, where Viñales finished last, a week later, at Assen, the Spaniard announced he would be leaving Yamaha at the end of 2021, getting out of his contract a year early. Ironically, the announcement came on Sunday, after Viñales had just finished second behind his teammate.
On Sunday after the Styrian round of MotoGP at the Red Bull Ring, Viñales was once again frustrated. The Spaniard had gotten off to a good start in the first race, but he stalled his bike on the grid when the warm up lap commenced before the restarted race. He then pushed his bike into pit lane, had to start from pit lane exit, and complained of strange bike behavior and and electronics problems all race, including erroneous messages on his dashboard.
"Basically, I had a few problems on the bike," Viñales had told us after the race. "I don't know why, but nearly all the laps I had "pit lane" [on the dashboard], like going in. And I didn't understand anything. And my dashboard was saying, "pit lane", "pit lane", so I didn't start. And I don't know why, but the anti-wheelie was working badly, and I just went. Also I was out of the points, and I just saw "pit lane", "pit lane". So maybe I thought I had a failure or something, and I went in."
Viñales also complained of electronics issues on the bike, a repeat of problems during qualifying. "Honestly speaking, for me, in the second race, the same thing happened as in the qualifying. I don't know why, but when I opened the gas, the bike was making failing, like 'boh-boh-boh-boh', so I don't know why. So I thought I had some kind of problem, but I kept running and running and running and it was OK, but in the last laps, I don't know why, it kept doing it more."
It is possible that Viñales' frustration had grown so great that he took it out on the Yamaha M1. Requests to Yamaha for confirmation of the dashboard messages reported by Viñales were refused, a spokesperson saying they were studying the data and had nothing to add to the statement they had issued.
This is not the first time Viñales has found himself in difficulties with a team. During his 2012 Moto3 campaign, Viñales decided to quit the Blusens Avintia team at Sepang, citing a lack of support and a lack of professionalism. Meetings with lawyers back at home saw him return to racing the next round at Phillip Island, and switching to the Team Calvo squad aboard a KTM, and going on to win the 2013 Moto3 title.
It is deeply unusual for a rider to be suspended by their team. It has only happened a handful of times – Romano Fenati after the Misano incident with Stefano Manzi in 2018, John Hopkins in Misano in 2008 – and it usually takes something extreme for it to happen. This particular incident looks to be the most serious split of the lot.
The Yamaha statement says that Viñales will not be replaced at the Red Bull Ring this weekend – his crew are already on their way home – and that "decisions regarding the future races will be taken after a more detailed analysis of the situation and further discussions between Yamaha and the rider". It seems unlikely that Viñales will be back in the Yamaha garage for the remainder of the season.
Who Yamaha find to replace him with is open to question. The most likely scenario, if Viñales does not return, is for Yamaha to bring in a rider from WorldSBK – most likely Garrett Gerloff – for the race at Silverstone, then swap test rider Cal Crutchlow into the factory team for the remainder of 2021. That is not a decision we will see this weekend, however.
What this means for Maverick Viñales' future is also open to question. It was widely expected that Aprilia would be announcing they have hired Viñales to race alongside Aleix Espargaro in 2022. How Aprilia feels about Viñales, and whether this situation has jeopardized that deal, should become apparent quite quickly.
The press release from Yamaha appears below:
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP STATEMENT
Spielberg (Austria), 12th August 2021
Yamaha regrets to announce that Maverick Viñales‘ entry to this weekend‘s Austrian MotoGP event has been withdrawn by the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team.
The absence follows the suspension of the rider by Yamaha due to the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider during last weekend‘s Styria MotoGP race.
Yamaha‘s decision follows an in-depth analysis of telemetry and data over the last days.
Yamaha‘s conclusion is 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.
The rider will not be replaced at the Austrian GP.
Decisions regarding the future races will be taken after a more detailed analysis of the situation and further discussions between Yamaha and the rider.
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