If you follow me regularly, you’ve probably already read something about the next story I wrote. I’ve already explained it, but I believe there is no better way to introduce the matter we will talk about: the coming Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales duel.
Long ago, like around 15 years back, the double Spanish World Champion Sito Pons went to a mini bike circuit to watch the races happening there. In one of the pocket bike heats, two very young kids attracted his attention. Both were far faster than the rest of the group and the two were caught up in an intense and spectacular fight. Pons was so impressed with what he saw that after the race he made a point of meeting them.
When he approached the pits of the first racer, he found a small boy crying his eyes out in despair. He was clearly the one who had lost the race. Pons was so touched that he attempted to console him by telling him he had done a very good race and pointed out that the other boy was riding an 80cc bike while he was on a 65cc bike. But nothing, not even the advice of the most popular Spanish rider at the time, helped to appease the crying child’s disappointment. That frustrated young boy was Maverick Viñales and the winner of that race was an older boy (by 1.5 years) named Marc Marquez.
This anecdote is a perfect prologue to this article and illustrates well what’s behind the duel between Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales that is forming after the results of this year’s preseason. For these two young Catalan talents what is about to happen is just one more chapter in a story that began many years ago…
Marc and Maverick assume that their whole lives are focused on doing everything necessary to win.
Two different paths
The age difference and the contrast between their backgrounds separated the careers of Marquez and Viñales early on. The arrival of Emilio Alzamora into Marc’s life meant he would have a carefully crafted path, which included the presence of very important sponsors that supported Marquez and allowed him to enter the best teams, to have the best equipment and for his growth to be monitored and supported by the most professional of environments.
Viñales’s trajectory was more erratic. The continuous change of teams and managers since his arrival to the GPs in 2011 demonstrates that erraticism. In these six seasons Viñales has raced on five different teams with at least three different managers taking care of his interests (and it must be said, in most of the cases, not that well).
This difference in career paths created polar opposite situations. For example, Marquez debuted in MotoGP in 2013 on the most powerful team in the paddock—HRC’s Repsol Honda—while Maverick was still just a challenger in the Moto 3 championship. Imagine Viñales witnessing his major childhood rival at the very top of peak, while he was just beginning to climb it and being convinced, absolutely convinced, that he could beat Marquez as he had done in the past. It’s easy to imagine the mix of both frustration and motivation this had for Viñales.
For the last two years, ever since Maverick’s arrival to MotoGP, it was just a matter of time before the two young Spaniards would cross paths again.
But this is all in the past now: their separate paths have finally converged. For the last two years, ever since Maverick’s arrival to MotoGP, it was just a matter of time before the two young boys in our opening story would cross paths again. “Maverick has been preparing himself for this for a long time,” assures Davide Brivio, Team Suzuki manager of the team on which Viñales learned the ABCs of MotoGP over the last two seasons. “And Marquez is waiting for him,” adds Brivio. “In fact, the both are waiting for each other.”
Marquez hasn’t hidden the fact that he considers Viñales his biggest threat in 2017 since he signed with Yamaha. The young man from Roses, a seaside village just a few miles of the French border, has impressed since joining the Yamaha family. Every test on his new M1 has been a demonstration of his intentions. “He wants to win this year, he is not going out there to study his rivals,” says Brivio, who tried to convince Viñales to stay with Suzuki over many a long conversations last season. But as he has shown throughout his career, once Maverick makes a decision he never looks back, and his decision was to get the opportunity to ride a winning bike so he could finally face his rival under equal circumstances.
And in this case, Viñales knows that it is Marquez who is going to be his rival over the next coming decade. Yes, Valentino, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, etcetera exist, but the one person who matters most to him, the one he wants to beat viscerally, is Marquez.
When Marc is in a difficult situation he clenches his fists and goes for it. And I tell you something, he always finds the right way out of his difficulties.
Marquez is ready
On the other side of the ring, Marquez is waiting for Viñales. And since his arrival to MotoGP, Marc has repeatedly left examples that he leaves nothing to chance. Don’t doubt for a minute that Viñales’ preseason performance has been analyzed under a microscope. Marquez only understands racing as a winning exercise, so you can bet that he has been carefully watching Maverick and his M1 during the preseason tests.
The incident in Phillip Island, where Marquez interfered in Viñales’ race simulation by riding behind him to study his lines and the behavior of the M1 was the first of Marc’s “counter attack” after Maverick’s impeccable preseason. “Don’t doubt it for a single second!” comments Angel Viladoms, former Spanish Federation president and a man who has known both riders since they started racing at 6 years old. “When Marc is in a difficult situation he clenches his fists and goes for it. And I tell you something, he always finds the right way out of his difficulties.”
It’s all about wining
Speaking with Viladoms is clarifying. “Both share one characteristic: their will to win is bigger than any of the rest. They’ve showed it since they were kids. In this aspect they aren’t very different. Both approaches are, for example, very different from the ones of the Espargaró brothers.”
Another clarifying testimony comes from Luis D’Antín, former GP rider and team owner, who had Viñales as a rider on one of his local teams. “He was around 12 or13 years old and he was on another planet compared to his rivals. Although he had to start from the last row of the grid because he was so small that he wasn’t able to reach the ground and therefore somebody had to hold the bike by the seat. But even so, he used to win easily. His talent has been always there.” D’Antín also underlines Viñales competitiveness, who even at that young age became extreme upset if he didn’t win or missed the pole position.
“Marc and Maverick assume that their whole lives are focused on doing everything necessary to win,” Viladoms explained. If, in attitude, Marquez and Viñales are like two water drops; in character they are quite different. Marc is explosive, always switched on, “While with Maverick, sometimes you wonder if he is really awake.”
Viñales and his question marks
At this stage we all agree that Viñales is fast, and during the preseason we have seen that he is also consistent. The speed is there, there is no doubt. “As a rider he has margin to improve,” adds Brivio, who followed his evolution as a MotoGP rider closely. “Let’s say that this season he will apply for the final diploma. Consider that he hasn’t had so many close battles in MotoGP.”
Racing is not just being fast, among other things, knowing your rivals can be as important as having speed.
True, racing is not just being fast, among other things, knowing your rivals can be as important as having speed. Rossi, Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, and Dovizioso know each other well. After years of battling each other they know each rider’s strong and weak points, behavior in the race, and their mental approach to different situations and so on. Maverick, on the other hand, still has to learn all of this…and the other riders have yet to discover Maverick’s strengths and weaknesses.
In Manuel Cazeaux’s opinion (Viñales’ crew chief at Suzuki) Maverick may need to work on his racing attitude. The Argentinian technician thinks he needs to develop his aggression, especially because his only target is the most aggressive and brave rider in the whole field: Marc Marquez.
Viñales needs to develop his aggression, especially because his only target is the most aggressive and brave rider in the whole field: Marc Marquez.
And as said, Marc will not passively watch his childhood rival arrive to threaten his throne. “For Marc, anything other than winning is a defeat,” explains Santiago Hernández, Marquez’s crew chief. “Trying to explain to him that it could be better to finish second or third in a race is very complicated. For him it is very, very difficult to understand something like this.”
A matter of time
Every time we put confrontational situations between two riders on the table, the critics appear to accuse us of feeding polemics. Well, to these “puritans” I have to say that GP racing has nothing to do with “friendly” club racing. In the GPs, one wins and the rest simply lose, and when it comes to duels like that of Viñales and Marquez, Marquez and Viñales -put it how you prefer- we are simply reporting.
It’s just a matter of time before we witness the “big clash” between Marquez and Viñales. It will doubtfully achieve the dimensions of what happened between Marquez and Rossi –Marc learns well—but get ready to follow the duel between these two alphas. It won’t be long; Phillip Island was just the prelude.