Only a few weeks ago, Maverick Viñales was the man to beat in MotoGP. The newest rider on the factory Movistar Yamaha squad was turning the series on its head with two successive victories right out of the gate. But the last two races in Austin and Jerez have been enough to freeze those expectations. In Texas, Viñales looked like he made a mistake—something that can happen to anyone once—but in Jerez, what happened was a “disaster,” as he so bluntly put it. Viñales’ sixth place at the first home race was disappointing…especially for a rider of his character. "This morning I felt like I always do, riding my way, very exact, the bike barely moved [around on the track], I could brake very late and I had very good sensations. The same sensations I had at Austin's warm up. If everything had happened normally, I'm sure we could have fought with the Hondas in the race because we had a good setup, the electronics also were in place.”
But then Viñales was caught completely off-guard by a problem that he didn’t expect. “The reality is that the race was a disaster. We had a problem with the front (end), it didn’t work. It changed dramatically from morning to afternoon, and we really only changed the tires; nothing else. It’s true that in the FP4, for example, in the left corners the rear was sliding, but this morning we solved the problem."
Viñales began avoiding specific names, "to avoid receiving an e-mail, as happened in Austin after talking about a possible defective tire," but as he continued to talk about the problems he encountered, he soon dropped any inhibitions. "I see it as logical and normal that we all want our brand to have a good image, which everyone speaks well of. I’ve been one of the few riders who have never complained about Michelin, and I’ve always supported the brand to the fullest. What I don’t understand is that in the warmup, the tire was perfect. But in the race it didn’t work.”
And Viñales wasn’t the only Yamaha rider who had tire issues. “There were not only problems with my tires, but also with Valentino (Rossi),” explained Viñales. Rossi encountered the same front end feel problems with the front tire that he and his crew thought they had solved at Austin. And then the nine-time world champion said that he had to slow even further during the race at Jerez due to a vibration coming from his front tire.
“It seems a bit strange,” reasoned Viñales. “If Valentino had finished third, we could consider that we made a mistake in the set-up of the bike, but I also saw him having a lot of problems...and they were the same ones that I had.”
With the two Yamaha factory bikes suffering with tire problems, it was Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco who finished fourth as the first Yamaha rider after another good race again. "The difference is that Zarco was using a medium front tire, and we were on the hardest tire—the one we had been advised to use," Viñales explained. "In FP4 (which had nearly the same warm track temps as the race), I did more or less 20 laps on the (hard) front tire and (it felt) great. That’s why today in the race I didn’t understand because I couldn’t brake or turn. Behind Valentino I saw that he too nearly fell two or three times in front of me. It really was very difficult today to finish on the bike; this was our biggest problem.”
"Zarco chose the softest option and went well. When it happened to me, I said: ‘Gosh, maybe we were wrong going with the hard tire.’ But in all the practice sessions and in the first two races, I’ve been good. Even in the warmup at Argentina, I felt comfortable with that option. That's why it's strange that in the last two races, I did warmup practice with times that I could fight for the victory with, and then I fell in Austin in the race, when I’ve never crashed on the second lap, and here I almost fell too. It’s difficult to find an explanation, our bike is working well. What I’m clear on is that we have to continue with our setup, which is what we’ve won two races with, and with which I feel good."
The points advantage accumulated in the first two races, despite the two mediocre races, makes Viñales second in the championship—just two points behind Rossi, the leader. In fact, in Jerez, he actually managed to gain four points on his teammate; but Marc Marquez gained a good portion of points on the Yamaha pair. "We are giving away very important points for the championship. Today, a podium would have been like a victory. They are very important points that at the end of the championship could decide the title.”