Did Maverick Vinales make a mistake by rejecting Ducati to stay at Yamaha?

Why Maverick Vinales is taking a calculated risk in shining a light on Yamaha for his troubles with 18 months of his contract still left to run...

Maverick Vinales - Yamaha MotoGP 2021

Seven rounds into the season and one could say things have been a little too ‘nicey-nice’ in the 2021 MotoGP World Championship. Where’s the drama? Where’s the controversy? Step up, Maverick Vinales.

On Friday a promo for an interview he has conducted with DAZN was aired in which he suggests he should have left Yamaha at the end of the 2020 MotoGP season, adding that he won’t make the ‘mistake’ again.

The words imply he should have accepted a tempting offer from Ducati to join its team for 2021 rather than sticking with Yamaha, where he has shown title-winning pace… mixed with bewildering poor performances.

But is Vinales correct in the suggestion he would be having a very different experience with Ducati? At the very least this is a definitive shift in tone for him. It’s also risky to reflect responsibility of your own results back at a team you are contracted to for another 18 months. 

In short, he wouldn’t be doing this without feeling justified. The Spaniard isn’t known for being the most outwardly outspoken rider on the grid, but he is one that has courted - unwillingly - a sizeable proportion of attention for all the wrong reasons, which is ironically at odds with a CV that on paper is very impressive.

After all, this is a rider with eight MotoGP wins to his name, has beaten the mighty Marc Marquez in straight fights and done much of the business for Yamaha in recent years relative to his erstwhile attention-hogging team-mate Valentino Rossi.

But it’s these very factors that serve to sharpen focus on the negative, namely a form book that is at best inconsistent, at worst inexplicable.

For every win - including one at the top of the season let’s not forget - there are several races in which Vinales hasn’t simply been off the pace, but seemingly competing in a different race entirely. 

It’s certainly strange for a rider on a bike that is clearly very accomplished to lurch from best in the world to - being harsh - undeserving of the machinery beneath him. 

Moreover, if this was on an event-by-event basis at different circuits with different characteristics there would be some pattern to it, but it isn’t. He has been fast in practice and qualifying - including race sims - only to play almost no part at the business end of a race. He won in Misano from pole in 2020, but was well off the pace the following weekend at the same venue in the same conditions.

Many have tried to decode this enigma - not least the man himself - and the pressures of trying to explain something he can’t has led to many an occasion where he’d be sat in press conferences and media debriefs clearly carrying the weight of the world and its solar system on his shoulders. 

But then Vinales has been persistently looking within himself to find an answer, even going down the route of psychology to work it out.

Which is what makes this interview so interesting in that he is - with words that have been chosen very carefully - shifting the onus onto Yamaha. He isn’t blaming Yamaha per se, but there is an impression he doesn’t feel the manufacturer is doing what he needs to regain that consistency, a factor brought to the fore this week by the announcement he is getting his second new crew chief in as many years on Yamaha’s dictation.

To an extent Vinales is not wrong to shuck himself of some responsibility and hand it back to Yamaha. 

Having spent four years out-performing Rossi on a bike that was still largely dictated by his input, the Italian’s exit at the end of last season should have promoted him in the hierarchy.

However, with new team-mate Fabio Quartararo showcasing so much potential as Yamaha’s next big (somewhat accidental) asset, he was already threatened with becoming a support act even before the Frenchman went on to win three of the opening six races. From this standpoint the end of his contract looks very far away.

Should Maverick Vinales have joined Ducati instead?

As for whether Vinales was wrong in turning down Ducati, you have to look at why and when.

The announcement of his current contract came in January 2020, promptly followed by confirmation Fabio Quartararo - who was also approached by Ducati - would replace Valentino Rossi in the Factory squad.

It is no secret in the paddock that many believe Vinales’ best shot at glory would - in theory - come with Ducati given the Desmosedici’s particular approach to set-up that demands a smoother, more delicate hand.

It is a trait that Vinales has in abundance and explains why he is - on his day - probably the only rider capable of defeating pre-injury at best Marc Marquez in a straight fight.

But it’s dictated by a seemingly narrowing peak operating window dictated by too many factors from circuit, to tyres, to conditions. The Yamaha works best when being hustled directly at the apex of corners, yet Vinales with his more flowing approach allows him to maximise the M1 at circuits such as Assen. The arrival of Quartararo with his sharp precision no matter the location emphasises where Vinales is increasingly unable to get the best from the M1

Moreover, with Quartararo clearly Yamaha’s future, development will only move further away from Vinales without an imminent improvement in his results.

So yes, Vinales probably did make a mistake in not accepting an offer from Ducati… in hindsight. 

If it was November 2019 again, it’s difficult to see why he’d have made a different decision. Indeed,  the Italian firm presented less of a guarantee in terms of providing what he needed to adapt, just ask Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

It must be noted the signature came early on at the conclusion of the 2019 season, during a period in which Vinales had been quick and more consistent than perhaps any other time in his career.

Nonetheless, this interview will be seen as a klaxon to initiate discussions for 2023 and the timing isn’t a coincidence.

Ducati - fresh from re-signing its headline riders for 2022 - is finding it doesn’t need the ‘big signing’ necessarily to succeed with its current promoted protege line-up of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia showing all the signs that it could have finally stumbled on the winning formula, almost by chance.

For this reason, if Vinales leaves it longer for Miller and Bagnaia to really cement their futures with Ducati, then it won’t be knocking on his door at all.

2021 isn’t over. 2022 hasn’t begun. Yet the fight for the 2023 title just came under starters orders.

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