MotoGP: Maverick Vinales Interview

Will Vinales stay put at Suzuki or replace Lorenzo at Yamaha?

Maverick Vinales race action from Le Mans
Vinales battled early with teammate Espagaro, and then held off Dani Pedrosa to hang onto third after Marquez and Dovizioso crashed out.Courtesy of Team Suzuki

Maverick Viñales is the revelation of the 2016 MotoGP championship. In only one year he has turned from being the most promising MotoGP rookie since Marc Marquez, to being the first candidate to succeed Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha next year when the latter moves to Ducati. The 21-year old Spaniard doesn't hide the fact that it his dream to team up with his hero Valentino Rossi and to learn the secrets behind Vale's nine world titles. In the meantime, he celebrated his first podium in the premiere class at Le Mans, and Suzuki's first podium since Loris Capirossi's third place at Brno in 2008.

In the next couple of days he will make the most important decision of his young career thus far: signing with Yamaha as Rossi's teammate or following the romantic dream of bringing Suzuki back to championship glory, a team that hasn't won the premier-class title since 2000 with Kenny Roberts, Jr.

We will soon know the answer, as the announcement should arrive before the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello in a week and a half.

Cycle World: First of all, congratulations on your first MotoGP podium, how do you feel?
MV: "Getting a podium was my target this year and I've been chasing it since the first round. Finally I made it at Le Mans, a circuit where I won my first GP in 125cc in 2011. That time the victory had a special taste because I had just arrived in the GPs and no knew me, but I'm really happy. In the first laps I fought with my teammate and lost some time, but then I had a good pace and I could recover. I was in fifth place behind Marquez and Dovizioso when they crashed. Once I was behind Valentino, I preferred to ride more conservatively. I was overthinking it at Argentina when I crashed, and I didn't want to again lose the podium opportunity. So I succeeded to maintain the concentration and to manage Pedrosa, who was closing the gap. It's a great satisfaction and I'd like to thank the people around me and Kiara (Fontanesi, four-time motocross world champion, and girlfriend) for her support."

Maverick Vinales on the podium at Le Mans
MotoGP sensation Maverick Vinales took his first-ever podium in the premier class at Le Mans.Courtesy of Team Suzuki

CW: Is it necessary to learn from the mistakes and crashes in order to make the step up to the podium?
MV: "For sure, I was very disappointed in Argentina because I crashed when I was very close to my first podium. On the other side, I told myself that if I had made it [up there] already, I could do it again and here we are."

CW: From Moto3 world champion in 2013, to already fighting for the podium in MotoGP, has everything has happened very fast for you?
MV: "Yes, I decided to remain only one year in Moto2 (third in 2014) although I could have stayed one more season to win the title the following year, but I had the opportunity to switch to MotoGP with the Suzuki factory team and I took it. It proved to be the right decision: one year of apprenticeship in MotoGP has been crucial. I have learned so much."

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CW: This year you made a big jump: how much is you and how much is the bike?
MV: "I would say fifty fifty. The Suzuki has improved a lot. The seamless gearbox has contributed to make a step forward, but mainly we have more power. On my side, I have gained experience and there is a circle, when the bike works better, you feel more confident and you can push more."

CW: What are the strong and weak points of the Suzuki?
MV: "The strong points have always been the fast corners, while we struggle more when we have to do hard braking and then accelerate. I think this podium will give an extra boost to the Japanese engineers to keep on working and improving the bike, as they had relaxed a bit. There is still a lot of margin."

CW: How much are the Michelin tires affecting the race outcome this year?
MV: "I would say a lot, especially because in the tests and in the practices you have to test the tires a lot the and this takes time that you could spend testing other stuff. This is particularly important for a team like Suzuki, as we are continuing the development in the races."

Team Suzuki celebrates podium finish
Team Ecstar Suzuki celebrated its first podium since 2008.Courtesy of Team Suzuki

CW: How much will this podium influence your decision regarding your future?
MV: "This result will not change my decision because this was the first target I had for this year. I will make the decision in the next days with a clear head. I want to decide as soon as possible to avoid extra pressure or distractions so that I can focus only on racing."

CW: What are the pros and cons?
MV: "Suzuki is a family and they trusted me. I made my debut with them in the premiere class and I get along very well with my team and the top management. I know that if I stay, the development of the bike will be made around me and this helps. It is a romantic dream to try and gain a title for Suzuki as Kevin Schwantz did. But Kevin won only one crown, while in those years Mick Doohan won five titles with Honda. This makes me think. I believe that Kevin's bike was not at the same level of the other bikes and he made the difference. So to have a competitive bike is the key. Anyway, I'm proud that someone can put my name next to Schwantz, but in the end you need results. If I finish fourth or fifth , I'm not a legend, not even with Suzuki, so I have to look for something that will allow me to gain a world title. And if the team that has won the world title looks for you, it's difficult to say no."

Valentino Rossi on the podium at Le Mans
Valentino Rossi.Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

CW: How strong is the appeal to team up with Valentino?
MV: "It will help me a lot to grow as a rider. He has so much experience and if he has won nine world titles it means that he has something special. Moreover, the competition with the teammate helps you to raise the bar and compete at another level. Look at Lorenzo, he has won three MotoGP world titles."

CW: What about Marc Marquez?
MV: "I've raced against Marc since childhood. When I was seven or eight we met almost every weekend, sometimes I was winning, sometimes the other way around, but being two years older than me he jumped into the Spanish Championship and joined the Grand Prix series before I did. In a way, Marc has always represented a motivation for me because I thought that if he was doing all that, I could do it too. So, I would like to fight against him and beat him."

The decision seems to be in favor of Yamaha as they can grant a winning bike, but Suzuki is doing the maximum to keep their new star and the next racing prodigy, as many people in the paddock who have a keen understanding about racing have defined him. We will know soon, so stay tuned.