Sito Pons, the two-time 250cc world champion and one of the people responsible for making Spanish motorcycle racing what it is today, once explained to me how he met Maverick Viñales. The event was a minibike race at a local karting circuit. The riders were no more than 7 or 8 years old, and two of them were clearly faster than the rest.

"They were in another dimension," Pons recalled. "I was impressed, so after the race I went to see them. The first I met was the smallest one, and he was crying inconsolably because he finished second. I tried to calm him by saying he raced well and the guy who beat him had a bigger bike. But he kept crying." That kid was Maverick Viñales. The one who won? Marc Márquez.

Some 15 years later, I asked Viñales who is the person behind the rider we see during MotoGP race weekends. “Here, I don’t show all of me,” he replied. “I may look serious, but I like to have fun and make jokes. Let’s say that on GP weekends I behave professionally. But I’m very much a house guy; I like to be with my people, and it’s hard for me to open up to others. So I would say that I’m a very loyal person with my people but at the same time funny, always joking.”

There are a lot of photos in which you appear as a young boy, already racing. Now you are 23 years old. People see the successful Maverick Viñales—young, famous, making money, doing what he likes—but between those first pictures and now is a long period. What happened during these years?

People only see the top of the iceberg. All the hard work can’t be seen. So many weekends on the road far from home. When I was 10, I slept one weekend that year, just one, in my bed at home. The rest we spent racing here and there—minibikes, motocross, or whatever could be raced. It was hard but it pays off because you enjoy your passion.

Was it a big effort?

If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t because there is a lot of suffering. The whole family is always pushing, waiting for you to win. There is a lot of pressure. It’s very difficult. If I had a son, I wouldn’t put him into motorcycle racing.

Did you share these years with your cousin, Isaac, who races in Moto2?

No, we followed different paths. I always tried to win the championship I was racing before jumping to the next category. Isaac was always in more of a hurry.

Maverick Viñales
Maverick Viñales’ path to MotoGP—first with Suzuki and now Yamaha—began in the 125cc and Moto3 classes. The 23-year-old Spaniard won the Moto3 world title in 2013. He spent one season in Moto2, finishing third overall.Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

I heard that, as a child, you were a poor loser.

Oh, yes! I still…but I bite my tongue. I have always struggled to accept defeat. Not winning meant a defeat. There were only those two options. I just wanted to win everything.

I also have been told that, because you were really small, you had to start from the back of the grid.

True. Sometimes, even after having won the pole, I had to start from the back of the grid because somebody had to secure my bike as I was unable to touch the ground.

Back to the present. How would you describe yourself as a rider?

I like fast corners and sections with linked curves; I suffer in slow corners. I enjoy faster tracks, like Phillip Island or Silverstone.

There are riders who don’t care if bike setup is 100 percent; they just give it gas. Others try to learn and understand what the bike does, how it does it, and why it does what it does. Which kind of rider are you?

I like to learn because it can help me understand the sensations I feel on the bike. I like to understand what goes on, and I have to say I’m improving a lot. In this sport, you can learn every day if you want.

What do you remember of your time with Suzuki?

I remember a very difficult first year. I had to get on a bike I had never ridden before, plus develop it. It was very hard, and I suffered some crashes. When the year ended, I said to myself that I had done very well to step up to MotoGP quickly because it helped me learn a lot.

Viñales on his YZR-M1
Viñales enjoyed a stellar start with Yamaha, winning three of the first five races of the 2017 season. Since then, his best results have come at tracks whose attributes suit the corner-speed character of the YZR-M1.Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Why did you leave Suzuki for Yamaha?

There was an opportunity I couldn’t let escape. Emotionally, it wasn’t easy because I had a very strong relationship with Suzuki. But I had to try.

Were you looking for a bike with guarantees?

Now I laugh, but yes. Seeing Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi always on the podium and winning races made me make the move. But it cost me a lot to tell Suzuki that I wouldn’t continue with them.

Rossi and Márquez have a core group of trustworthy people around them. You don’t.

I’m trying to create that but the maximum I have spent in the same team has been two seasons. This way is very difficult to build your own team. I always have tried to take people I trust with me, but it isn’t easy.

How is life in the shadow of Rossi?

I wouldn’t say in the shadow. I believe I earned my place, especially last year. This year has been more difficult. In 2017, Yamaha put its 100 percent on me, and we were able to build a good championship. Things went off track at the end with all the chassis and tire changes. Last year, I did good results. I was happy. This year, in the preseason, I didn’t feel comfortable at all. We didn’t follow the same path as 2017—that is what I would have liked—and the results show.

You don’t seem to be a rider who likes to generate a lot of noise when things go wrong. It looks like you prefer to manage it yourself.

There are good and bad times. I think that my racing career can last a long time because, physically, I’m okay. I haven’t had many injuries, and I’m passionate about racing bikes. I hope the bad luck is happening now and the best is still to come. The saying goes that you learn from the bad moments, though, sincerely, I prefer to learn from the good ones.