Suzuki Private Test: On Progress with the 2016 Chassis, and Examining Viñales' Contract Situation

On the Monday after the Austin round of MotoGP, the Suzuki team stayed on to do an extra private test. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had hoped to start relatively early, but heavy overnight rain left the track both wet and dirty, taking some time to dry out. When they did start, the times were poor – around 2'08, rather than the 2'05s both riders had been posting in the race. But conditions improved as the day went on, and the session turned into a very productive test for both riders.

After two race on back-to-back weekends, there was little time to be testing new parts. Both men had some new electronics to try, aimed at helping the seamless gearbox be a little smoother. They also both tried the 2016 chassis again, after having spent the first three races on the 2015. Aleix Espargaro was not entirely convinced, saying the frame was stiffer, but it was also less agile. That meant balancing braking stability against cornering ability. For Espargaro, the time lost in the corners would not be made up on the brakes, certainly not in qualifying.

Maverick Viñales was a good deal more positive, saying the 2016 chassis was a big improvement for him over the chassis from last year. After the test, he regretted not using it in the race. "We’ve been comparing the old chassis with the new one and we are quite surprised because here looks like the new one was a bit better. So I want to kill myself!" Viñales joked. The bike stops better, and he can turn the bike better while on the brakes, he said.

Viñales was so convinced of the 2016 chassis that he said he will be trying it at the next race at Jerez, which features a number of hard braking zones entering corners. But the 2015 chassis was still better in agility, and he felt he could switch between chassis at different tracks. At stop-and-go tracks like Le Mans and Motegi, the 2016 chassis may be the better option, while at more flowing tracks such as Mugello, Assen, the Sachsenring, he could use the 2015 frame to take advantage of the faster changes of direction.

There was still work to be done, both riders said. The Suzuki GSX-RR still lacked rear grip, they both told us, which was a big factor in their lack of acceleration. Viñales pinpointed stability under braking as the bike's biggest weakness still. "I feel so strong in fast corners like Sector 1, but then when it is hard braking like Sectors 3 or 4 I have problems," he said. It had been a focus point for the test, and both Espargaro and Viñales said they felt they had made progress in that area.

The test was also a chance to get more data on the Michelin tires. Espargaro said he was able to use the medium front for the first time, and get some feedback from it. When he had used it during the race weekend, he had always ended up crashing, so understanding how that front tire worked was a big step forward.

Viñales splits with manager, may not secure Yamaha contract

After the test, news emerged which could affect the future of Maverick Viñales. The Spanish youngster had split with his former manager Aki Ajo, and switched to Paco Sanchez, who used to handle Pol Espargaro. It could be a relatively expensive affair: sources suggest that Viñales will have to pay a penalty of 25% of his agent's fee to Ajo for breaking the contract.

The news that Viñales was splitting from his manager saw a line of rider managers hovering around the Suzuki garage. In the end, Viñales elected to have Sanchez handle the legal side of his contracts, while keeping the contract negotiations in his own hands. Given the pressure of racing in MotoGP, that may not be the best possible solution.

Viñales' new manager may not be able to get him much in the way of a new ride, however. Though reports on Motorsport.com suggest that Viñales currently only has an offer on the table from Suzuki, he may not have much choice in the matter. According to Speedweek – a German-language website with close ties to Aki Ajo – the contract Viñales has with Suzuki has a stipulation that Suzuki can extend the contract for another year if Viñales gets on the podium in 2016. Given Viñales' strong form so far this year, that seems increasingly likely.

That would leave Yamaha with a problem. The Movistar Yamaha team are pushing to sign Viñales to replace the departing Jorge Lorenzo, but if Viñales scores a podium, they would not have the option of the Spaniard. Suggestions that Viñales would deliberately miss out on a podium to secure a Yamaha ride are frankly laughable, wildly underestimating the ambition and hunger for success which all young riders have.

If Yamaha cannot secure the services of Viñales, then they may offer another rider a one-year contract, as a stop-gap for when Viñales does become available. Valentino Rossi suggested that either Andrea Iannone or Dani Pedrosa could take the place of Lorenzo, though how willing Yamaha would be to allow Rossi to choose Lorenzo's successor remains to be seen. Yamaha are reportedly unwilling to place Alex Rins directly into the factory team, instead wanting him to serve time in the Tech 3 satellite squad. Rins is unwilling to sign for a non-factory team, and consequently it looks like he is headed to the Repsol Honda team instead.

At the moment, the only certain move is that Lorenzo will be signing for Ducati, with an announcement expected in the run up to Jerez. That announcement will trigger a further round of intense speculation and horse trading between the rest of the riders on the grid.

Below is the press release from Suzuki, issued after the test.


VIÑALES AND ESPARGARÓ MAKE PROGRESS AT COTA TEST

Team Suzuki Press Office – April 12.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR’s Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaró stayed in Austin for one more day after the GP of The Americas to test updates for the factory GSX-RR machines and to review the data from the first three races.

The first three 2016 MotoGP events provided plenty of feedback to the Suzuki factory race department in Japan, resulting in some updates in terms of set-up and electronics. The main focus has been on the new 2016 chassis, exploring different options in set-up, plus further developments in the electronics package.

Light rain in the morning restricted track time, but both Viñales and Espargaró were able to take advantage of the exclusive Team SUZUKI ECSTAR test session and both riders reported positive progress at the end of the day.

After three races it was important to re-evaluate the progress to date in a non-race, low-pressure environment and although the riders’ impressions and feedback differed in some respects, they agreed on the future direction to provide the most rapid improvements.

For Suzuki, the Team SUZUKI ECSTAR project is an important investment and the continued improvements are testimony of the company’s trust and emotional involvement in the ongoing MotoGP project.

Maverick Viñales:

“Today we tried some more configurations with the 2016 chassis to compare with the one we tested in pre-season and the one I’ve been using in the first three races and we are happy to have discovered that, on this track, these new configurations could have seen a more positive result in the race. After this test, I maybe now have a little regret at my initial choice, but this is normal - all aspects have positives and negatives and you need time to go in depth with the investigations. Sometimes it takes more time, so it’s good that we made this test because we could go really in depth of these two sides of the same coin and now know better the potential of both the chassis’. This gives us a double option and I don’t exclude that we might decide to adopt one or the other according to the specificity of the different tracks. Basically what we are looking for is some more traction and also more effective hard braking, which again has to do with the rear grip. The modifications in set-up we have done here proved to be effective, as my lap times were pretty good, and this is something that makes me very happy. We also made some steps forward with the electronics - it’s another thing that could help us, and it’s good to see that we are continuously improving. Testing here was very important - it’s good to review the situation after three races and to see where we are, so that now we can have a clearer idea which direction to take.”

Aleix Espargaró:

“It’s good that we had this opportunity to test here because we were missing some information and now we have a clearer idea of where we are. We focused mainly on the chassis, where we had some new set-ups to be tested on the 2016 version so we could compare with the configurations that we tested in the winter and also on the 2015 chassis we have been using since the Qatar race. We started from the set-up we used in Qatar qualifying and moved on from there. The differences between the 2015 chassis and the new configurations of the 2016 are not that big, but their strong points are different and this gives us more options to exploit when it comes to better adapt from one track to another. Today my confidence improved, as well as my lap times, and this makes me happy after the tough three races so far. I’m still working on my riding style to make it more suitable to the Michelin tyres, and also for this we tried some little variations in my position on the bike. The electronics have been another area that we tested - we still need to go deeper to understand it better and any change is good for us to learn more. It’s good that we did this test - it helped me to re-evaluate my ideas and to re-focus on our path.”


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Comments

I could easily see Yamaha buying him out of his contract with Suzuki if they wanted him. Compared with what they are paying Lorenzo, I'm sure whatever Maverick's contract is worth is peanuts in comparison.

Factory Yamaha ride, I don't think they'd have to pay Maverick a big salary either, especially if they got him out of Suzuki.

Total votes: 133

Yamaha will save millions either way if they are replacing Lorenzo with another rider, Vinales contract situation represents a minor hitch which Yamaha can resolve by buying out his contract as samjenkins said above. Vinales would probably offer to buy the contract himself if Yamaha refuse to, Factory Yamaha don't come knocking for your services very often in your career.

I'm more intrigued as to why he split with his manager especially now that he has to fork out money as well for breaching the contract and why is he handling contract negotiations on his own?

In regards to the Speedweek link, Lorenzo still hasn't officially turned Yamaha's contract down so I doubt they can offer one to Vinales at the moment. It's more likely they have a contract prepared for him and once Lorenzo to Ducati is announced, they can proceed to get Vinales signed up (only after resolving his contract with Suzuki...) Gotta love silly season!

Total votes: 125

It would still be suzuki's decision if they want to sell his contract to Yamaha. Just because Yamaha can afford to buy him out, Suzuki could still say no thanks and keep him. 

You voted 3. Total votes: 125

it still depends on what maverick wants. it makes no sense for suzuki to keep a rider against his will. a rider in this sport has to be fully comfortable with both bike and team if they want solid performance. 
there is a lot of talent available for motogp next year, so it would be a much better option to let vinales go and sign someone like rins for example.

Total votes: 128

This is from my previous post in the Austin Sunday Round Up:

"...from past experiences, we've learned that the Maverick is just that, and I unfortunately feel that his level of emotional maturity is such that he's believing his own hype just a bit too much right now, and this is affecting his sense of balance and reason. I hope his integrity remains intact. While this is an area reserved for management and counsel, one feels Mav is a bit of a wild man who makes his own counsel. Hopefully he learned something a few years back. I just can't help but doubt it..."

This is such an important moment in young Maverick's career. If ever he needed good management and even better counsel, it's right now. To split with one of the best guys in the whole of Grand Prix racing at this key juncture in his life seems like a huge mistake to me. I obviously don't know the details or the circumstances, but this latest development just does not seem to be a good thing.

As I read David's latest above, I realized I would have preferred being wrong about Maverick, because he looks now to be in real danger of f*ing up his entire career. Again, I hope I'm wrong.

Total votes: 121

It would seem MV lacks emotional intelligence... Is this the same Maverick that walked off his 125 team a few years ago? Think so. 

Total votes: 131

He's arguably lead rider for a factory MotoGP team in his second season, and "the hottest property in MotoGP".

Perhaps Maverick knows what he's doing?

 

Total votes: 113

I, too, find it a strange moment to be breaking up with his management... but maybe (well, most likely, would prolly be better) there is more going on that we don't know, or will ever know. It wouldn't be the first story of management having a different agenda than the one(s) they are representing.

Total votes: 117

I think the right question to ask is... who is Paco Sanchez closest to with the manufacturers?    Pol Espargaro is contracted directly by Yamaha isn't that right ?    If that's the case... then it makes sense to go with the guy who already has a foot in the door with Yamaha to push for a contract with Yamaha and butter them up to make the case to buy Mav out of Suzuki.

Total votes: 122

I don't know whether it makes sense to have a halve-assed contract (only legal stuff, not the negotiations) with a manager already having a rider possibly gunning for the same seat?

Total votes: 131

Pol Espargaro to factory Yamaha?    I don't mean for this to sound nasty,  but that never crossed my mind.    I kind of figured he's just trying to ride to keep his Tech 3 seat this year based on his finish in 2015.

Total votes: 106

David you re absolutely right regarding the podium clause for Vinales: if he gets on a podium his contract is automatically binding for an extra year. Davide Brivio was asked about it in the Italian press and said many interesting things about it. In a nutshell: they would be sad to see MV leave the team. They have the contract on their side - if he makes a podium MV has to stay with Suzuki. ... but then Brivio sighed a very long sigh and added: "you cannot force a rider to stay against his will. No matter what the contract says...." maybe I'm reading too much in it but I got the impression that they are prepared to see him go. Moreover Pernat said that Iannone has an offer from Suzuki. I know it's silly season big time but I would be surprised if MV did not join Yamaha.

Total votes: 129

Off topic but I don't do twitter other than looking at your feed on this site.  Re your recent tweet on Kevin Cameron and the reverse rotating crank, if you want to bolster yourself in his intimidating presence you could point out the absolute clanger in that article.  In early 1987 Mick Doohan was still racing a TZR250 in what was little more than Aussie club racing.  He got a shot in the Marlboro Yamaha team late that year and rode Yamaha superbike/TTF1 bikes throughout the rest of 87 and 88 (I saw him at Bathurst).  He didn't ride an NSR till 89 when both he and Lawson joined HRC.  In 87 and 88 HRC was basically all Wayne Gardner.  Apologies for the pedantry, I've no doubt Doohan probably tested later iterations and made comment on them, but not the 87 bike "at the time".

Back on topic, curious goings on with MV and his manager, surely more to it than we will ever hear about.  As per earlier comments surely his best option would be to offer to ride for Yamaha free (he'll still earn plenty from endorsements) in the first year if they pay out his Suzuki contract.  Furthermore, he indeed seems a bit of a headstrong character with a sharp mind, he COULD even throw any possible podium position if Suzuki are going to play hardball.  Lets see... what happened in Argentina.... hmmm.  (kidding!)

As for Rossi advising Yamaha who his team mate should be, I think it's pretty clear why Jorge has moved on if it indeed happens.  It could easily backfire on them, Yamaha could find themselves with an abundantly popular but fading #1 rider, and a second rider (whoever it may be) who like many before have not lived up to expectations.  Will be interesting to see.

Total votes: 149

OK. Rossi adviced or suggested. And if it happens, it proves that rossi has great control over who yamaha chooses. Fine. But just one problem. I just don't see how. Let's consider Lorenzo is gone, and Maverick is unavailable. Who is the next best to ride the second M1. Ask anyone and either of those two are going to be the most probable answer. Innaoni is already hailed as the next upcoming alien and for an year it wouldn't hurt. As for Dani, being an alien himself, it is highly suggested by all the experts thst he wouldve been a champ if he was not this small and had to ride a bike that needed manhandling. On an M1 he would be just a whole lot better. Who else would be a better choice? Given thst he might be the one losing his spot at Ducati, it might seem like dovi is a good candidate too. But let's be honest. Dovi dominated these last 3 races by heavily banking on the superior edges of his desmosedici. It's been always like, get a good gap on the straight and then protect thst gap(even though it withers away like crazy) till the next spot where desmo goes boom again. Nothing like what innaoni did during the PI race, where he stood toe to toe with everyone else and then dominated on straights. So it's difficult to say dovi will do great on an M1 given m1's humbled attitude towards straights. Whose next? I don't see any other satellite or factory riders being a viable choice. So rossi said or not, doesn't matter. It was anyone's guess. An informed guess. If not MV, take in AI or DP. I would love to see DP on one of those M1. Whatever Dani lacks, m1 will compensate.

Total votes: 130

Personally, I'd like to see MV stay with Suzuki. The machine is on the cusp and should be as good as anything on the grid next year. Cal left Ducati at exactly the wrong time. With the advances of 2015 it seems lots of riders are fast on that bike today, which is a bit of a revelation. Even the GP14.2 models are competitive. Perhaps rider management is useful for making those kinds of decisions, but other than that I don't see a lot of value in agents in the MotoGP paddock. It seems like a pretty small world. Every manufacturer and funding sponsor knows exactly who Maverick Vinales is and where he stacks up. It's not like an agent is going to give him some inside track. Obviously, he had a disagreement with his agent and broke the contract. It happens all the time and it usually is about money. Again, I hope he stays with Suzuki. Pedrosa on the Yamaha sounds pretty interesting!

Total votes: 116

There's still a big difference between Cal moving from factory Ducati to Customer Honda compared to Maverick potentially moving from factory Suzuki to factory Yamaha.
Yamaha has been a proven frontrunner for the last decade and some. Suzuki might be a challenger for some podiums and some wins next year, but there's no guarantee.

Total votes: 124

So we're assuming Pedro is out at Repsol Honda? I think it would be hard to find an established rider to sign for only 1 year at Yamaha.

 

Total votes: 112

Could this be the reason vinales split from his manager? From a riders point of view its not a great clause, It essentially limits his options if he does well. Perhaps he was unhappy with ajo for allowing it in the contract

Total votes: 121

Depending on where you are in your career and the capricious nature of MotoGp management I would think the 1 year extension on your contract is a excellent clause to have. Given that he was still in Moto2 at the time I think in his case it might have just that - a excellent clause.

You voted 5. Total votes: 117

with Alzamora / Monlau again?   A wall in the Repsol garage?  Alway's wondered why Honda have let non HRC staff have so much inflence in the factory team over the years.  

Total votes: 125

I too do not understand why HRC let themselves be dictated to by these stap-on manager/mentors.  My brief understanding of Japanese culture would suggest that an outsider telling HRC what they can and cannot do would give them the dreaded 'loss of face'.  Fact is the second seat - in fact any ride - at Honda is much less attractive because Marquez is firmly the #1 rider and will likely be into the future.  At Yamaha you have Lorenzo allegedly departing, and Rossi sooner or later on a downward tangent to retirement.  The possibiliy certainly exists to become a clear #1 rider by 2019 at the latest, not so much the case at Honda.  An incumbent at Honda has to not only beat Marquez on the track, but also in the pits and the boardroom.

What I'd like to see is MV staying at Suzuki who continue their upward trend, Dani going to Yamaha and getting a well deserved and long overdue title, and Rins coming into Honda and really shaking MM's tree.  What I expect to see is MV going to Yam, Dani staying at Honda, and Suzuki picking up whoever is presumably pushed out of Ducati.

Total votes: 132

If Dani is on the outer with Honda I would love to see him and MV at Suzuki.The Suzuki would suit Dani and with his experience and MVs youth and ability they would form a great team.

Who would be Honda's preffered choice, would it be one of their sattelite riders or someone else?

 

 

Total votes: 103

I'll step in and defend this move.

1)  Whose fault was it he could be locked into a deal he didn't want. Who would be most likely to benefit from a long term relationship with Suzuki and possibly secure a satellite bike.  Who could be telling Mav that the Suzuki deal is the best deal to take and to stay with them.  All fingers point to Aki Ajo.  

2) People get fired in racing all the time.  And most the time its for the better.  No one was crucifying Rossi when he fired Burgess.  Prezioso who?  The only failure is always inaction.

Mav wants that Yamaha ride.  There is not a single reason he would not want to move to the top team with the best bike on the grid.  And Aki Ajo simply is either refusing, or cannot get this deal done for him.

Total votes: 117

I'd love to see Maverick stick with Suzuki and help return them to competitive performance.

I'd also love to see Dani Pedrosa on a Yamaha.  I feel that the more agile, flowing bike is likely a lot better suited to his diminuitive frame than the unruly Honda.

As it is, he's been runner up several times, with some time on the Yamaha I think he'd be even more competitive.

 

Total votes: 124

That would be a killer combination, a rider that was forced to grow up on a old Ducati will very likely find the M1 the literal hot knife-thru-butter and given the results with the Ducatis I see even better on the M1.

I pray for this to happen.

Total votes: 137

The relevance/importance of any specific manager has been eclipsed by Vinales' performance.

Similarly the potential of the Suzuki has been bolstered by him, some people anticipating that their bike can or would get that last gain in performance to match the Factory Yamaha seem...optimistic. It is wonderful what they have done and they are not done with their development progress by any means. I understand a desire to see Vinales and Suzuki continue (me too!), but...

Get everything out of the way that stands between Vinales and the best seat on the grid. Careful criticizing via conjecture. Stand back and await the blast off of our new Alien...

You voted 4. Total votes: 105