After a long and perplexing period, Maverick Viñales seems to have rediscovered the best version of himself. At the Austin Circuit of the Americas, he displayed the Viñales we saw at the beginning of last season, where he won three of the first five races. But in a puzzling metamorphosis, that brilliant start was transformed into a frustrating year with moments of tremendous frustration.
They say that you learn much more from difficult times than from successes. Precisely those thoughts was the first thing we talked about when we sat down with Maverick in Texas. “What thoughts were you left with last season? … Well, the feeling that nothing is easy and that if you want something you have to work hard; And that’s what we are doing.”
In what way would you describe those months?
“It was a situation that I basically couldn’t offer the best version of me. Logically you try, you want to, but there was always a limit.”
What limit was that? And, was it a limit or is it still?
“It was and is. The limit has to do with the electronics. So even more than frustration, is that I can’t give 100% on the track. It’s what we’re trying to solve: getting the electronics to let me give it my all.”
“I’m trying to turn the situation around and make the bike work. In my way or not in my own way, but in any way that works.”
The statements you made in recent months have been confusing. One day you said “I found the bike at the beginning of 2017,” but then the next day everything was back to zero. To try to understand what is going on or went on, I’m going to ask you to review everything that influences a rider’s result.
“Yes, yes, perfect.”
Well, let’s start with the engine.
“In the pre-season, different types of engines were tested; We had several options for this year. In the end we chose the one we have now, the most powerful one; the other specification was softer lower down. Surely it would have helped us on certain occasions, but we wouldn’t have as much power … We have to try to make the engine we have softer at lower RPMs but at the same time take advantage of its power.”
Do you like the engine you have?
“I like it, I like it … Maybe because of my way of riding I would prefer another type, but if Yamaha and I decided to take this engine it is for a reason.”
“In the preseason we decided to choose the most powerful engine. Maybe because of my way of riding I would prefer another type, but if Yamaha and I decided on this engine it is for a reason”
“I’m happy with the chassis. I feel comfortable with the chassis, even in rain. In that area we are at a good level. ”
“It’s where we need more. Above all, we need to understand how the tires work with them. We are thinking a lot in terms of last year, but the tires this season are totally different. They have the softest carcass in the middle which allows us to use much more power … In Argentina, for example, I didn’t have any power and that caused us lose many tenths over the length of the track.”
The tires … Are you comfortable with the Michelins this year?
“I’m fine, I’m happy. It’s clear that I liked the front much more we had at the start of last year much more, but in the end it is the same for everyone. There is no other way but to adapt and look for the best performance with what there is.”
“Practice is the key; Starting from the middle of the grid hurts a lot. If you want to win a race you can’t be very far behind fifth in the lineup.”
The team, are you happy with the group you work with?
“Yes, I’m happy. We all try to give 100%. Nothing can be blamed on the team. Every week they give their best and try to improve in everything they can.”
What about the approach to practices? I’m telling you because if you start from the middle of the grid … Especially with your race endings, where you end up riding in the fastest times of the race.
“It’s clear. If I started in front it would be much easier, I’d clearly be fighting for a win… That’s basically what happened in Austin.”
That means you have to change the approach to practice and qualifying?
“We clearly have to try to make a good approach to try to improve in qualifying. Starting 10th hurts you a lot. If you want to win a race you can’t be very far back from fifth in the standings”.
“With all the problems we had with the tires last season, it’s difficult to put power to the bike. It’s hard to trust that the tire is going to hold.”
We have reviewed the bike, the tires, the team and the work strategy. We need to review the rider. How are you? How is your head?
“Well, I think I’m more motivated than ever. I want to turn the situation around and I want to push the most. I’m trying hard this year to not repeat the mistakes I made last season, both mentally and emotionally. I try to be a little more stable. As I just told you, I’m trying to turn the situation around and make the bike work. In either my way or not in my own way, but in any way that works.”
And how do you do this? I mean mental preparation.
“On the basis of knocks, Manu! Based on punches! Last year I got hit from all sides, and in the end that makes you better. It makes you think about what your mind needs to stay calm, to be comfortable with yourself and motivated.”
“It’s hard to react when you’ve won races and you go from that to being ninth; it is very difficult to assimilate”
Did those blows make you waver or doubt yourself at some point? At one point we saw you knocked out, unable to react. How did you get out of that?
“It’s hard to react when you’ve won races, been on the podium, and you go from that to being ninth. It is very difficult to assimilate that. But at a given moment you react and try to find a commitment, to look at details that help you improve.
Going back to the start: so we can conclude that the basic step to return to maximum competitiveness is to improve the electronics.
“Yes. That will fix everything in the end. Because in Argentina, for example, the problem was that we didn’t have power and no matter how much we tried to squeeze or made very high corner speed, if the bike does not accelerate … It’s a little frustrating that we can make times at the end of the race to win them and at the beginning it’s so difficult. And it’s simply because of the electronics. I believe that the bike is at a great level and when the electronics improve, the results will totally change.”
Sorry, but I don’t understand: why don’t you have power when you told me before that for this season you chose the most powerful engine you had available? Is it because of tire consumption problems? Because of poor electronic management?
“No, no, it’s because last year, with all the problems we had with the tires, it’s hard to put power to the bike. It is hard to trust that the tire will hold up. To me, in Argentina, from the first lap to the last the tire did not degrade even a little. This means that we aren’t pushing it. We were worried about what happened last year, so we are going down a road where the bike does not accelerate or slide.”
“I’m trying hard not to repeat the mistakes I made last season, both mentally and emotionally. I’m trying to be a little more stable.”
And when you see that at the end of the race you head of the race times, I imagine you are angry.
“Not angry, but I feel powerless, because I know that if I came out ahead even if the bike didn’t have power, I would put the rest to try to win the race. It’s always easier when you start in front. I said it before, look what happened in Texas. The way to go is clear.”
Yes, but considering the roller coaster of sensations which you’ve had recently, who says you won’t return to square one the next day. In fact, before Texas you said that you need a full day of practice to solve the electronics problems you have. You’ll have hat day after Jerez …
“Yes. That’s the idea. The day after Jerez will be very important, especially for electronics, to adapt it better to my style. Actually we are working in a very “soft” area with electronics, without power. And I don’t ride like that; I am a more aggressive rider, using the tire and grip more… The post-Jerez test will be important.”
Have you had to change your riding style?
“Last year I did change it because if I didn’t I wasn’t going to get close to the front, I had no choice. This year the problem is totally different.”
“We are working with a very “soft” zone with the electronics, without power. And I don’t ride like that, I’m more aggressive, using the tire and its grip more…”
How did you change your riding?
“Overall, I became much softer in the corners; not as aggressive with gas. I changed my riding because if I didn’t I wasn’t going to get close to the front, I had no choice. But I felt like that lost me many tenths on the track.”
Like Jorge Lorenzo’s style?
“Yes, more like that. But I felt like that lost me many tenths on the track because I couldn’t take advantage of the bike we had in the preseason. So this year I focused differently, in the end my riding is my riding and we have to try to adapt the bike to that style.”
Zarco. If you have electronics problems, why doesn’t Zarco have them?
“I don’t know. You should talk to the Yamaha technical team.”
Don’t tell me you didn’t ask that question to the Yamaha engineers!
“I have my questions, of course, but I try to focus on myself and improve what is in my hands.”
“Why does Zarco have no electronic problems? I have my questions, of course, but I try to focus on myself and improve what is in my hands.”
The championship, do you have a chance at winning the title?
“Well, we’re not far. But after what I experienced last season I know very well that things can change from one day to the next. Last year I was leading by a lot, I fell back, then Vale went ahead, then I returned, then Marc, then Dovi…”
Before Texas you could have said that your season was going to start after Jerez tests, but after your excellent race in COTA, you’re back up there. What can we expect from Maverick Viñales at Jerez next weekend? Last year you suffered a lot there … What do you have to say to your fans?
“That the new asphalt has grip … So you can bet on me (smile). I really want to get to the home GP. The support of the fans will make me put in my best.”