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It’s not me, it’s definitely you: 8 MotoGP marriages that went bad…

Not all marriages last... and neither do all MotoGP contracts; Maverick Vinales may be leaving Yamaha but he isn't the first to duck out early

Johann Zarco - Red Bull KTM MotoGP

Things move fast in MotoGP… and not just the bikes.

Today we received confirmation that Maverick Vinales and Yamaha have indeed agreed to annul their contract by mutual consent at the end of the 2021 MotoGP World Championship, one year earlier than planned.

It brings a disappointing end to a tenure that has reached some lofty heights - and seven wins - but with it some unfathomably disappointing lows to such a degree Vinales couldn’t face the prospect of another year at Yamaha despite it being the championship leading team right now with Fabio Quartararo.

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Still, at least Vinales can take some scant comfort knowing he isn’t the first - and likely won’t be the last - rider to go through divorice. At least his isn’t a messy one…

Maverick Vinales - Yamaha

Only a few weeks ago it would have seemed unfathomable that Vinales and Yamaha would be heading for a split. In fact, Vinales is the only rider on this list to have asked for an early exit in the same season he has been a race winner.

Indeed, things were looking rosy for Vinales after winning the 2021 MotoGP opener in Qatar in a manner not dissimilar to the wins (two) he achieved in his first two races as a Yamaha rider back in 2017. However, like back then - and in seasons since - Vinales title credentials were left floundering by curious slumps in form that made predictably unpredictable.

Rear grip inconsistencies have been his go to justification since 2019 - a trait of the more recent Yamaha M1 development - and a last place finish in Germany just over a week ago was the final straw, though just as he agrees to go, he fires in a podium at Assen.

In his defence, Vinales signed his 2021 and 2022 deal right at the top of 2020 and since then we’ve had a world-changing pandemic, so one can perhaps forgive him for wanting to go back on the marriage after what was such a long engagement period. And it’s fair to say Yamaha is probably being a little more forgiving considering it has Franco Morbidelli waiting in the wings to take his place.

Johann Zarco - KTM

One divorce that could have been heaped with regret as time continued, Johann Zarco and KTM can be satisfied that both have since gone on to forge much better relationships since their split.

Zarco’s arrival at KTM wasn’t entirely of his own doing. In fact, it was part-arranged since the Tech 3 Racing team he was signed to had announced its decision to stop using Yamaha customer machinery and instead use KTM. 

At the time it was lured by the promise of quasi-identical machinery to that of the Factory squad and while a difficult 2019 campaign probably had it looking over the terms and conditions of that contract, it paid off handsomely in 2020 with two wins.

Zarco came part of the deal but moved to the Factory squad. At the time KTM was still finding its feet in MotoGP and it wouldn’t be until 2020 that the RC16 stopped being a tricky beast and evolved into a rough diamond.

However, Zarco - known for his smooth style that worked very well on the M1 to the tune of six podiums across two seasons - but the KTM required a heavier hand and some hustling. As such, the Frenchman couldn’t find his sweet spot with it and found himself on the floor on too many occasions (including the clanger above when he swiped out team-mate Miguel Oliveira).

What followed was his ‘honest’ appraisal in the media that earned a rebuke from KTM that contended if he was a good enough rider, he’d be able to adapt to the bike. Meow!

The two parties confirmed the two-year deal would be annulled to a one-year contract, which became six months when Zarco was dropped from the race line-up and then released altogether to return on a Honda later in the year.

Nonetheless, while KTM have since flourished, there are no regrets from Zarco as it has opened the door to a Ducati career that has him flying high in second overall at the moment on the Pramac bike.

Jorge Lorenzo - Honda

Jorge Lorenzo could have been on this list twice such was his difficulty in finding his groove with the Ducati but he did persevere and was rewarded with victories, unlike a certain other Yamaha-to-Ducat counterpart Valentino Rossi.

Ironically though, just as Lorenzo hit his stride with the Ducati, he’d already signed to join Honda for the following two seasons in 2019 and 2020. Replacing long-time stalwart Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo seemed a logical choice but came into the team realising he’d need to work hard to get his way alongside Marc Marquez.

However, the RC213V was built in Marquez’s vision and Lorenzo found it tough to adapt, while crashes pre-season didn’t help his confidence. It led to an alarming dearth of results early season before a crash during testing in Barcelona and a more serious one at Assen ruled him out for several races.

Things didn’t improve as the season continued and while Lorenzo consistently insisted his two-year deal would be honoured, he then announced his retirement. 

He had a point about the Honda though because now even a recovering (ie. mortal) Marquez is struggling to make it work properly,

Cal Crutchlow - Ducati

Several riders have passed through Ducati ranks having probably wished they hadn’t but only two didn’t see out their contracts, including Cal Crutchlow.

The British boy that was coming good in MotoGP, proving you need to get there by 250 and 125 to succeed against the big boys, it’s fair to say Crutchlow’s switch to Ducati from Tech 3 Yamaha, where he was consistently on the podium was more to do with the status of being a factory rider than improving his results,

He was enlisted to replace Valentino Rossi, whose two years with Ducati weren’t so much bad but anonymous. However, Crutchlow couldn’t find his rhythm on the bike and he was comfortably out-performed by Andrea Dovizioso to such an extent that he was replaced by Lorenzo having won just a single podium.

Nonetheless, he’d go on to enjoy several successful race winning years with Honda, so all's well that ends well.

Marco Melandri - Ducati

Crutchlow’s issues weren’t anything new in a Ducati context and his weren’t nearly as pronounced as Marco Melandri’s, who traded a successful - but satellite - role at Honda for a move to join Ducati for 2008 but struggled to get off the back row.

His low point came with a series of crashes at Jerez that affected his confidence and while there were initial talks to part ways mid-way through the season, Melandri soldered on before leaving at the end of the year.

Hs sanctuary came in the form of Kawasaki for 2009… only for the manufacturer to quit the series over the winter, leaving him in the lurch.

In the end Melandri still raced in 2009 on Kawasaki machinery, but only after it was reclassified as a privateer team under the Hayate Racing banner. Despite the lack of factory support, the bike proved competitive and he notched a podium in France.

Sam Lowes - Aprilia

Sam Lowes and Scott Redding could share war stories of their time at Aprilia, but the former was the only one to come out of his contract earlier than planned.

A combination of Lowes’ difficulty getting to grips with MotoGP machinery and an RS-GP that seemed to go backwards in development in 2017, it was a miserable year all round for both parties, while the Briton felt excluded in the team environment.

With fractiousness very clear between the two parties, few were surprised when Lowes’ premature exit was announced with just five points to his name.

How bad was it? When Lowes was floated the idea of rejoining Aprilia for 2021 towards the end of last year, he replied ‘definitely’ not, saying it was no fun at all being there…

Vinales will be hoping he has a different experience

Karel Abraham, Tito Rabat - Avintia Racing

While Karel Abraham developed something of a journeyman reputation during his surprisingly long tenure in MotoGP - seven seasons in all - his split from Avintia Ducati was rather inelegant.

He was supposed to be on the grid in 2020 but was given the heave-ho in the the weeks after the 2019 season in order to get Johann Zarco on board. 

Admittedly, Avintia had Abraham on its books predominantly for the cash he brought, so when that was negated by some extra cash and support from Ducati itself in order to have Zarco on the bike, the Czech rider was dumped pretty quickly.

Meanwhile, Tito Rabat was supposed to be on the Avintia bike this year but mutually agreed to leave at the end of the 2020 season because Ducati was again hovering to get Luca Marini on the machine and because, by the Spaniard’s own evaluation, he wasn’t having fun anymore.

Alas, he doesn’t appear to be enjoying himself in WorldSBK now either...

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