The Next One? | Maverick Vinales Profile

New Suzuki MotoGP signee Maverick Viñales is tabbed by many as the next racing prodigy after Marc Marquez

Maverick Vinales

Although only 19 years old, Maverick Viñales has probably spent more hours in his lifetime sitting on a racebike than walking. Growing up in this atmosphere, the young Spaniard’s hypercompetitive character is perfectly understandable. His current team manager—former two-time 250cc Grand Prix World Champion Sito Pons—discovered Viñales when he happened to be visiting a minibike race in Spain many years ago.

“I saw two kids racing wildly with each other,” Pons recalls. “They were young, very young. They really impressed me, so after the race I went to meet these two kids. One happened to be Marc Marquez; the other one was Maverick Viñales. Maverick was crying disconsolately (because he was beaten by Marquez), so I told him not to worry, that he had just lost that race because his rival had a bigger bike than him.”

When we asked Viñales whether he remembered this episode, he said, “Not exactly, but, yes, something of that day I remember. He was riding an 85cc bike, and I was riding a 65cc one.” It wasn’t common knowledge that Marquez and Viñales had raced each other on minibikes. And considering the slightly different trajectories of their racing careers, it sounded a bit surprising.

Maverick Vinales
Viñales (25) was in contention for the inaugural Moto3 World Championship in 2012, but a disagreement with his team at Sepang caused him to miss the race, and he ended up third.

“Yes, I’ve raced against Marc since childhood,” Viñales says. “We met almost every weekend, but being a year older than me, I always kind of kept arriving late. He was always a step ahead. This made him jump into the 125cc class and race the Spanish Championship and join the Grand Prix series before I did.” When asked if it was difficult watching a rider he’d occasionally beaten go on to win the Moto2 and then MotoGP championship, Viñales replies matter-of-factly, “No, because I was also winning in 125cc GP, and it didn’t affect me that much. Things change. Marc actually was age-wise always a notch above. I thought that if he was doing all that, I could do it too.”

Maverick Vinales
By winning the 2011 French 125cc Grand Prix, Viñales became the third-youngest rider to win a GP. He finished third in the championship in his rookie year.

Those in the paddock who have a keen understanding about racing in Spain say that Viñales is the next racing prodigy to come from that country. “He’s very talented,” Pons says. “He has a natural feeling to go fast; it flows out easy for him.” And Pons admits this despite being angry at Viñales for his decision to switch directly from the Moto2 class to the MotoGP class next season, signing with the factory Suzuki team for 2015 and 2016. Pons considers it a serious mistake after just one season in Moto2. Signing with the new, unproven Suzuki MotoGP team is certainly a gamble—not only for the rider but also for the Suzuki team. But to have Viñales in blue was an absolute priority for Davide Brivio, Suzuki MotoGP team manager.

"Straight from the first moments when he arrived in Moto2 he was quite fast, but what impressed me most was his victory on a new bike for him in the second race in Austin," Brivio recalls. "A rookie winning so quickly is not normal. He awoke my curiosity, and I started to follow him closer. He won in his first year in 125cc Grand Prix (before Moto3). He quickly won four races, and in the following years, every season he has won four or five races a year. This shows, among other things, that he is a rider who adapts quickly to new categories, to new bikes. You don't have to be an expert to see that he is very talented when it comes to riding a racing bike."

Brivio admits the original plan was to sign Viñales for the future, not next year. “At the beginning we were thinking about him as one of our riders for 2016 or 2017,” Brivio explains. “Our strategy was to approach him with the future in mind.” But during the first meeting with the rider from the northern coastal Catalonian town of Roses, Viñales basically told Brivio, “Why wait? I can do it in 2015.”

Maverick Vinales
After switching to the Team Calvo squad for 2013, Viñales ended up in a winner-take-all finale at Valencia, out-dueling rival Alex Rins (42) for the win and the Moto3 World Championship.

Viñales’ career has been fairly meteoric. In 2007 at the age of 12, he became the Catalonian 125cc series champion and repeated the following year; in 2009 he finished runner-up in the Spanish CEV Buckler national 125GP championship by just four points and was the obvious Rookie of the Year. The following year, Viñales took both the CEV Buckler 125GP and European 125GP championships. He then entered the 125cc Grand Prix World Championship in 2011, and he became the third-youngest rider to win a Grand Prix with his victory in Le Mans; three more victories that season allowed him to finish third in the championship in his rookie season.

Viñales was one of the favorites for the inaugural Moto3 World Championship, but although he won five races in 2012, he finished third overall after a disagreement with his team at Malaysia caused the emotional Spaniard to leave before the race. He returned the following year to enter the final race at Valencia in a winner-take-all finale with fellow Spaniards Alex Rins and Luis Salom. Viñales emerged victorious to become the 2013 Moto3 World Champion.

Maverick Vinales
If there is one weakness with Viñales, it’s that his qualifying needs some work. But despite sometimes poor grid positions, the Spaniard always seems to carve his way to the front.

But there are also plenty of stories of Viñales’ emotional side. More than one innocent helmet has paid the price after a frustrating race result. “It depends on the situation,” Viñales confesses. “I admit that sometimes I have a short fuse, but I know that I don’t have to behave like an a**hole in the box because in the end this attitude stops you from moving forward. But, hey, yes, on occasion it happened.”

The sporting career of Viñales has been sui generis (Latin for "of its own kind") so far. Unlike other top Spanish MotoGP riders such as Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo, Viñales did not grow in the shade of a manager who guided him and opened doors.

Maverick Vinales
Viñales’ Moto3 World Championship in 2013 served to showcase his potential, and he was a very sought-after rider for Moto2 in 2014. He will make the jump to MotoGP with Suzuki in 2015.

This probably influenced a notable career trait with Viñales: He doesn’t feel the need to surround himself with familiar faces. Since his arrival in the GP paddock, he has changed teams almost every year. Unlike other riders, Viñales doesn’t appear to need a faithful and secure environment; he apparently has no hesitation in gathering his things, changing garages, and continuing to do his job well wherever he goes. His past two seasons—where he finished third in the championship with the Blusens Avintia team then switched to the Team Calvo squad the following year and won the Moto3 World Championship—are a perfect example of his independence.

When talking about this subject, Viñales is blunt and forthright in his opinion: “At the end we’re all professionals, and I understand that if you go to another team, they’re going to try to give you the best (package) while being as professional as possible. Obviously it’s good to take your mechanics with you, but you cannot carry the whole team every time you move. And quite frankly, there are times you have to think that there are some teams that can be really good in one category or with a certain bike and not that much in a different situation. Everyone has to look out for his own good.

“In the end you have to find your best (scenario) for every situation,” Viñales continues. “If I had switched to Moto2 with the team I won the championship this year, my results probably would not have been as they have been because they had no experience with these bikes. You have to go to the team that you think you’ll do better (with).”

Maverick Vinales
Viñales was part of the Blusens 125cc GP team that was “sponsored” in part by socialite Paris Hilton in 2011. Here she congratulates him after his victory in the Valencia GP.

These changes also involve new crew technicians every year, which means developing a whole new understanding between everyone on how to make the bike and rider as competitive as possible. It’s a marriage that always takes time to figure out—some more than others. Again, Viñales doesn’t worry very much about it. “We’re all professionals, and when we have a problem we have to fix it.”

The first Moto2 season of Viñales has been somewhat irregular. At the time of this article, he was sitting a distant third in the championship standings, with one win and four other podium finishes. But there is a major weakness: qualifying. Despite often being in the lead group fighting for the victory, Viñales, as of press time, had never qualified on the front row.

Maverick Vinales
Viñales has been able to mold his hard-charging style to whatever motorcycle he rides, from 125GP two-stroke to Moto3 four-stroke to Moto2 600cc multi-cylinder four-stroke.

But far from getting stressed, Viñales seems to be enjoying Moto2. Having a secured future in MotoGP with Suzuki is allowing him to race without pressure. "The truth is that in recent races I'm enjoying racing more than ever, and the results are coming by themselves." He also admits that having won the Moto3 title last year contributes to that serenity. "It was very important, yes. It's like you've taken a step in your career—gives you peace. At least you already got one."

And perhaps there are more to follow.

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