MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
How I ride: Maverick Viñales
Viñales reveals how he rode the rollercoaster of the last two seasons and why he’s planning to hire a sports psychiatrist for 2019
Viñales joined Yamaha in 2017, won three of the first five races, then didn’t win another race until October 2018. In this interview, conducted a few days after that Phillip Island victory, he covers all the bases: riding technique, tyres, bike set-up and the all-important matter of a racer’s psyche.
Unlike most top MotoGP riders you only spent one season with Bridgestone tyres and factory software, so was that an advantage when everything changed in 2016?
I was lucky because I didn’t get any of the strange habits you needed for the Bridgestone tyres and the good electronics. Also, when I went to Suzuki they already had Magneti Marelli software, which didn’t work like the really good electronics that some of the other factories had, so the technical changes from 2015 to 2016 changed nothing for me. I just had to get used to the tyres, but because I hadn’t got any Bridgestone habits I was quite fast as soon as I got on the Michelins and they suited my riding style quite well.
You dominated the early stages of 2017, then Michelin changed the front tyre and it was another 29 races before you won again. How come?
At the beginning of 2017 I could corner with much more speed with the old front carcass. As soon as Michelin changed to the harder carcass the riding style changed – it became 'brake late, stop the bike and go'. Finally, in the last few races, I had the chance to ride like that because we changed bike set-up a lot, so I could make better lap times.
Did you change to a stop-and-go style so that you didn’t lose the front?
No, I wouldn’t actually lose the front, I’d just go wide. The front of the Yamaha is really good, so it’s not easy to lose the front, but you end up going very wide. Instead you need to really stop the bike to make the corner. Until I found this new set-up I couldn’t start using my own riding style. Now it’s really good because I feel confident and I can be fast. Confidence is very important to me because I like to be more aggressive on the bike.
When did you start adapting the set-up towards a stop-and-go technique?
From the start of the 2018 season. I tried to go this way because I felt that this was the way the tyres worked. But the bike wasn’t ready to accept this, so then I started changing my riding style a lot – riding more smoothly – but then I got in a lot of trouble with the front tyre, because I wasn’t getting it hot enough.
So you were being too smooth and not getting heat into the tyres, which would explain why you were often slow in the early laps of races…
Exactly. After Aragón [where Viñales started 14th and finished 10th] I decided: okay now I will use my riding style, completely, and if I’m not fast then I’m not fast, but I will do what I want to do.
So it was the disaster of Aragón that made you realise you had to change?
How much did your set-up change after Aragón?
A lot. It’s difficult to explain, but we put much more weight on the rear; I just moved everything to the rear. Normally I don’t have much trouble with the front tyre because I’m quite good at feeling the limit, so I gave away a bit from the front and tried to concentrate on making the rear work really well. Now we use the rear brake and rear tyre to stop the bike and that has really helped.
But moving weight to the rear takes weight away from the front, which can hurt turning...?
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.