Observed from outside, motor sport in general and motorcycle racing in particular seem like a completely individual sport. It’s understandable because from the outside it appears that a race is essentially a duel between the riders on their machines—motorcycles in this case—but the reality is quite different.
What is behind each of these riders is an immense network functioning so that a rider can go out onto a track to gauge his level against other rivals. It’s true that in these hand-to-hand battles there is a part that can be completely attributed to the individual, and that is the skill of the rider. But this would not be possible without all the previous work done by the teams that support the riders in their garages, or "boxes" as they are called. Maverick Viñales’s victory at Le Mans last weekend over Valentino Rossi was a perfect example.
The skill level of the riders in MotoGP is extraordinary—we are talking about the best 24 riders in the world—so often there are details, sometimes quite small, that can tip the balance toward success or failure. These details can be technical, strategic or even personal. With the latter, we are referring to ideas; decisions that, put into practice, make the difference in the key moment of battle.
When appearing before the media after winning the French Grand Prix, Viñales commented that he was sure he would have won that race even if Rossi had not committed the two errors on the last lap that lead to the Italian crashing out. "Before the race we made a modification to the bike precisely in anticipation of the race ending just as it did," explained the Catalan rider.
"We knew it could happen that the race would be decided with Rossi in the last lap, so we changed some details of the bike to be especially effective in the last two sectors of the circuit." What Viñales omitted saying at the end of that statement was the phrase ‘for the last lap of the race.’ That is to say, his technicians put at his disposal a motorcycle that would be especially effective during the last 500 meters of a 100 kilometer race. And it worked!
So much so that when Maverick and Valentino came to turn 11 on the last lap of the race at Le Mans—there are a total of 14—the Spanish rider was able brake at the absolute limit. Knowing that at that point his teammate would play his last card, Viñales went for all or nothing. Actually, they did both, with the only difference being that Viñales’s bike was prepared for it and Rossi's wasn’t.
The Italian hit the ground—the first time in his more than 20 year career that he made a such a mistake—while "Mack" crossed the finish line alone, thus regaining the championship lead. Yes, the glory, the champagne, the camera flashes and the microphones were all for him, but much of the merit of that important victory was in the team that Viñales has behind him in the garage. No, motorcycle racing not an individual sport, not at all.