MotoGP

How do you solve a problem like Maverick Vinales and his MotoGP race day curse?

Winner one week, off the pace the next... Maverick Vinales is perplexed by his sporadic MotoGP form - but how did it get this bad?

Maverick Vinales says not racing in the Catalunya MotoGP wouldn’t have ‘made a big difference’ as his sporadic race day form slumped once again on home soil just a week after he was toasting his first win of the season.
 

The Spaniard came into the last of the triple-header MotoGP events hoping to have turned a corner on his scatter-graph form following victory in Misano, which itself came only a week after a lacklustre result at the same circuit.
 
However, despite qualifying on the front row, a poor getaway and run into the first corner set up a miserable afternoon as he struggled to make headway en route to crossing the line in ninth position, whereas Yamaha stablemate Fabio Quartararo surged to his third win of the year.

 
The result was the latest episode in the doubts surrounding Vinales’ title credentials, where on days he has been unbeatable and others where he is mired in the mid-field.
 
Not unsurprisingly Vinales pointed to the Yamaha’s Achilles heel - it’s comparative lack of top speed - as his primary issue in getting the M1 up at the sharp end, saying it gives him scant opportunity to attack against rivals that are faster in a straight line and nix his chances of utilising its strength - cornering - to pass.
 
“There isn’t much to say, when you are behind someone with the Yamaha you can’t overtake. I struggled a lot with grip, we changed the bike a lot, maybe too much and we lost the road. In the warm-up I tried a completely different set-up, we didn’t know what to choose. We didn’t do a good job.
 
“Running or not racing wouldn’t have made a big difference. The only thing I could do was get to the finish line, fight for every point. When you come from a victory and then have a disastrous race you don’t understand much, you feel lost.”

Maverick Vinales and the Yamaha top speed debate

In some ways the 2020 MotoGP World Championship is Yamaha’s to lose… but that doesn’t mean it won’t lose it.
 
With Marc Marquez absent, Ducati flattering to deceive with the patchy performance of its GP20 and Suzuki’s consistency - though improving - diluted by the GSX-RR’s own unique traits, Yamaha with its exceptional strength in depth between the Factory and Petronas SRT teams should really be dominating.
 
On Saturdays it certainly seems that way with Vinales’ three pole positions - together with Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli contributing another three between them - meaning Yamaha has started on the top spot in six of the eight races.
 
However, from the front a rider can only stay there or go backwards, a fact Vinales’ amplifies with his own weaknesses over a race distance. Smooth and metronomically consistent, Vinales can happily lead a race from the front and, arguably, is the only rider along with Dovizioso capable of putting Marquez in his place on pace alone when the stars align.

 
Trouble is, Yamaha’s reluctance to fettle too much with the Yamaha M1 by adding more horses through fear of losing its famed cornering agility is - if anything - exposing it more this season even though it’s favourite to win the title.
 
As Vinales points out, the moment the Yamaha gets bottled up behind other riders, its strengths are almost entirely negated because it doesn’t have the raw speed to line up a pass and then finds a bike ‘parked’ on an apex it could otherwise take quickly. In short, qualify modestly or simply get a tardy getaway, and that’s your race day decided.
 
The Spaniard said the Yamaha can overtake other bikes but needs two quick succession bends leading onto a third braking zone in order to out-manoeuvre a rival. Trouble is, Vinales isn’t a natural hustler and is forced to do more work than his riding style is accustomed to.
 
By contrast, Quartararo is developing into a good hard racer able to rag the M1 out of its comfort zone in order to make progress, while still taking advantage of the agility that makes it so hard to beat on a Saturday, but you don’t see Yamahas scything through the field either.

Maverick Vinales in a mental tangle over MotoGP form

Piling onto Vinales’ problems is a mental brick wall that has been there since a stunning Yamaha debut in 2017 that yielded three wins in five races was followed by a series of average results. Worst of all, Vinales doesn’t seem to have a clear idea as to why he’s quick one week and not the next.
 
You can see the weight of the world on his shoulders when he turns up to a press conference on the back of a disappointing weekend, then see it literally lift when - as in Misano - everything changes. 
 
For the results to take another dive just days later, Vinales - in the knowledge this could be one of his best chances of winning the title - is evidently being tested by his circumstances.
 
That’s not to say he’s out of the 2020 battle with the general unpredictability of the title race meaning that at just 18 points adrift of the top, he’s still well in the fight. However, with Quartararo out front, there is some pride (his own) and honour (Yamaha) at stake too, which certainly won’t lessen the anxiety levels.
 
As for the future, Vinales has at least two more years at Yamaha to come but with the manufacturer professing to ‘know best’ in response to calls to inject more power into the M1, there could be some friction on the horizon.
 
Beyond that, many think Vinales would be better suited on a Ducati and they were certainly interested over the winter… let’s just say, it doesn’t take much conjuring to imagine a future in red for the Spaniard.

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