Maverick Viñales

The Comprehensive, Cover-All-The-Bases 2018 MotoGP Preview: Yes, It's A New Golden Age

It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin's first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics. 2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past.

All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018. Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well. Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there are ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.

Once upon a time, winning a championship meant being on a factory Honda or Yamaha. The balance between the two bikes shifted from year to year, as one of the two would find an incremental improvement the other couldn't match. One year, Honda would find more top speed which the Yamaha couldn't compensate for. The next, Yamaha would add stability on the brakes, which allow its riders to match the Honda going into the corner, then leave it for dead on the way out. It was a game of small steps, the championship swinging one way then the other.

Back to top

Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: The Fast, The Slow, And Learning By Crashing

The phony war is finally over. The last MotoGP test has finished, with riders completing their final day of testing at Qatar. The next time the MotoGP grid assembles, it will be for something of real value: race wins, and world championship points.

Did the last day of the test offer any clear indications as to what might happen in two weeks' time? Plenty, though they were as confusing as all of testing has been this year. Johann Zarco managed to be both blisteringly fast and worryingly slow simultaneously. Danilo Petrucci managed to do exactly the same, though in a diametrically opposite manner. Valentino Rossi managed to impress both in terms of race pace and a single fast lap, but he was still worried whether his pace would last race distance. Maverick Viñales was terrible for the first six hours of the test, then brilliant in the last forty minutes, after basically wasting a day and a half.

Underneath the surface drama, the two biggest winners of the preseason just got on with their work. Their headline times were great but not breathtaking, but the race pace of Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez was impressive. They reinforced their status as the title favorites going into the first race of the season through sheer consistency. While others raced up and down the timesheets like hyperactive kittens from day to day and hour to hour, Márquez and Dovizioso were always there or thereabouts, just getting on with business.

There were others, too. Cal Crutchlow has been repaying HRC's faith, especially with a phenomenal long run on Saturday. Alex Rins has shown every sign of growing into the rider we thought he could be. Rins' Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone (absent due to illness on Saturday) may have been quicker, but Rins has shown the kind of consistency that puts him in the top five just about everywhere he goes.

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Marc Marquez Moves The Markers, Tires Matter, MotoGP More Art Than Science

There is a peculiar type of athlete mathematics. It involves a failure to grasp the concept of percentages, leading to elite athletes promising to give "110%", or sometimes even "1000%". Logic dictates that an athlete putting 100% of their effort and reserves into an activity would lead them to collapse and die of exhaustion as they crossed the line. That would deny them the joy of victory, but more importantly, it would drastically curtail an athlete's career to just a single event, making it a rather fruitless avenue to pursue.

Of course, what they actually mean when they talk of giving 110% is of course making the maximum effort to achieve a goal. Some, commendably, refrain from mathematic hyperbole, sticking to the 100% maxim. Marc Márquez belongs to this group, speaking of giving 100% during practice and races.

A case can be made that Marc Márquez is the rider who most closely approaches 100% while riding. The list of legendary saves the Repsol Honda rider has chalked up at tests and races seems to grow every time he gets on the bike. Of course, he gets plenty of chances to practice: Márquez had 27 crashes in 2017, second only to Sam Lowes. Respected motorcycle guru Kevin Cameron believes that Márquez' saves are not saves, but actually the result of a technique he studies. With every monster save Márquez manages, that gets harder to argue with.

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Another Chapter In Silly Season, And Yamaha's (Un)surprising Speed

The Qatar MotoGP test may be the moment of truth for the factories and riders, but the most important things we learned from the first day of the test were unrelated to the action on track, or perhaps even the 2018 season. The biggest news of the day came when Valentino Rossi spoke to the press, telling Italian media that he is close to signing on with the Movistar Yamaha team for another two years, meaning he will race in 2019 and 2020.

Rossi's revelation came in response to a question about whether the Sky VR46 team would be taking over the satellite Yamahas to be vacated by Tech3 from 2019. "Firstly, I didn't expect Poncharal to leave Yamaha," Rossi said. "So we considered possibly having a team in MotoGP. It would have been great opportunity, but we won't do it. For the next two years we won't do it, also because it's very likely I'll be racing. I see it as a possibility for the future, once I've stopped but not in 2019 or 2020."

Those are a remarkably information-dense couple of sentences. Firstly, Rossi acknowledges that he is close to signing a contract extension with Yamaha for two more seasons. This is hardly news – he was half expected to sign a new deal at the Sepang test, but it looks likely that any new deal will be done before the season starts. Secondly, he admits that the Sky VR46 Racing Team is interested in having a team in MotoGP. Again, this is hardly earth-shattering news.

Back to top

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - What's going on at Yamaha?

The factory team seems in disarray, so could Johann Zarco be Yamaha’s greatest hope for this year’s MotoGP crown?

The Movistar Yamaha team seems to be digging itself an ever-deeper hole. Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi completed the second tests of the year in eighth and 12th positions. Their lap times weren’t a disaster, but more worryingly, both riders were confused by their inability to get closer to the front, which is always a bad sign.

On Sunday evening Viñales seemed so lost that it was hard not to feel a bit sorry for him.

“By a long way this is the worst test,” he said. “Even Sepang, that was the worst one since I’ve been at Yamaha, then today it’s even worse. I don't know… Honestly, I don’t know. We are struggling as a factory team, so I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. It’s difficult… We are missing a little bit in all areas. I’ve used different chassis, different engines, different electronics, but there is no solution, so I don't know. Honestly, I don't know... Maybe it’s better to ask Yamaha…”

Back to top

2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Sunday Round Up: A Comprehensive Look At Factory Fortunes

Have we emerged any the wiser after three days of testing at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand by the MotoGP field? That is hard to say. The test was more for the benefit of Michelin than for the teams, and the French tire maker brought some 2000 tires for the 24 riders who took part in the test. The track itself was not particularly challenging or instructive in terms of understanding how well bike development was going. "This track is also not so easy or so difficult, it's intermediate," is how Monster Tech 3 Yamaha replacement Hafizh Syahrin summed it up.

Is it possible to draw conclusions about how the 2018 championship might play out on the basis of the Buriram test? "No, impossible," Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso said, before proceeding to do just that in some detail. "I can see Marc in a better shape than at the beginning of last year," Dovizioso said. "I can see Dani in a good shape, I can see Zarco with a little bit more experience, so a little bit better for the championship than last year."

It was harder to judge the Movistar Yamahas, Dovizioso said. "It's very difficult to understand the two factory Yamahas, because they will be fast in the race, on race weekends, for sure. But when you look at the riders and the teams from outside, it's impossible to know the details, so I don't know. I can see the Pramac riders are fast, they are happy with the bike, so I think they will be quite fast during the season."

Back to top

2018 Buriram MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: "Every Time, The Media Looks At The Lap Times And Makes A Mistake"

It is always easy to get carried away by testing. Seeing a particular rider at the top of the timesheets, it is tempting to start constructing a narrative which sees that rider dominate the season, while writing off the rest. That, of course, is nearly always a mistake. And in the case of the second day at Buriram, Thailand, it is definitely a mistake.

That doesn't mean Marc Márquez won't be fast for the rest of the year, as well as Saturday in Thailand. He has won the MotoGP title in four of his five seasons in the class, so topping the timesheets was not, as one journo joked, because Michelin gave him special tires for his birthday. Márquez had been fast, and consistently so, through both the Sepang and Buriram tests so far. But the order behind Márquez probably doesn't reflect the true relative strength of the field.

The reason? Tires, of course. On Saturday, Michelin brought a new rear tire for the riders to test, after the rears used on Friday had shown some signs of degradation. The original allocation of rear tires were the same as used at Brno, Argentina, Sachsenring, and Sepang. The new tire was the rear used at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. That is relatively unsurprising, given that the place everyone compared Buriram to the first time they saw it was Austria. The different compounds in the Austria rear were better placed to withstand the stresses of Buriram, especially along the three successive straights in the tropical heat.

Back to top

Davide Brivio Interview, Part 2: On Johann Zarco, Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales, And Identifying Talent

In the second part of my interview with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio on talent, the Italian talks about the process of identifying and developing talent. We talked about Johann Zarco, and Suzuki's decision to choose Alex Rins over Johann Zarco, and the difference between being a factory and a satellite rider. We discussed the merits of having a feeder system, teams at various levels of racing to channel talent into MotoGP.

Brivio also spoke at some length about how he came to choose to sign Maverick Viñales. He compares that process to the decision to sign Alex Rins, and how he goes about identifying and deciding on talent. There are no guarantees, Brivio says, but all you can do is follow a process and hope the gamble pays off.

The second half of the interview appears below. Though the second half of this interview stands up on its own, reading it in combination with the first half will put it into a better perspective, and add more depth. The first half of the interview with Davide Brivio can be found here.

Q: Do you regret not signing Johann Zarco? [Suzuki had a pre-contract with Zarco during the 2016 season, but ended up taking Alex Rins instead.]

Back to top

Davide Brivio Interview, Part 1: On Replacing Rossi, Choosing Viñales, And Managing Talent

Contract season is upon us in MotoGP. Everyone bar Cal Crutchlow and Xavier Simeon is out of contract at the end of 2018, and only Maverick Viñales has signed a new deal to remain where he is. The coming Silly Season could either be hyperactive and extended, or given the early Viñales signing, it could be all over in a few weeks.

One of the key players in the coming rider reshuffle is Valentino Rossi. At the moment, all signs are pointing to Rossi signing on for at least another year with Yamaha, and probably two. But if he doesn't – and there will come a time in the future when even Valentino Rossi has had enough and decides to retire – then Yamaha face some difficult choices. Who to choose to take the place of the Italian legend?

Through the first half of last year, I spoke to three factory bosses about how they would go about the task. Taking the need to replace Rossi as the starting point, the conversation expanded to the wider underlying question of identifying talented riders before they make it to the premier class, and how you approach building a team of two riders with different needs and abilities.

The two other interviews – with Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti and Livio Suppo of Honda – were published last year, but still well worth reading. The final episode, with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio, the man who persuaded Rossi to go to Yamaha in the first place, is the most expansive of the series. In a lengthy and fascinating conversation, Brivio talked about Rossi's place in the Yamaha team, Suzuki's choice to sign Maverick Viñales, their decision not to sign Johann Zarco, how to build a successful team, and what he learned working with some of the greatest riders in the world.

Back to top


Subscribe to Maverick Viñales