On Friday afternoon before the Thailand Grand Prix, Maverick Viñales told Italy's Sky TV he felt Yamaha had abandoned him during the difficult past few months of the 2018 MotoGP season. The 23-year-old Spaniard didn't make this statement during an emotional, adrenaline-filled moment. Quite the opposite, actually. He was more relaxed during the interview than he normally is in front of television cameras. He smiled and joked, but his message was unforgiving.

“We have to be patient and hope Yamaha will be competitive again,” he said. “I have two more years on the contract, and I must have faith. Neither [Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director] Lin [Jarvis] nor [Team Director Massimo] Meregalli have managed the current situation in the best way. For my part, I felt a little forgotten. It’s important to feel we are a team, and that is something I have been missing. I wish I had received a hug at some point; it would have been fine. It’s important to give hugs not only when things go well but also when they go wrong to make you feel a little better.”

Viñales spoke in nearly perfect Italian until the moment he denounced Yamaha. At this point, he switched to Spanish so there would be no doubt what he said. (This detail caught my attention because I had never witnessed it before with him.) Those statements were not like the majority of his comments to the press, which are often passive, sometimes even robotic. Viñales finally raised his hand in the same way a student attempts to get a teacher’s attention. And Viñales’ message was clear: I’m here. I exist.

How did Yamaha react to such strong public criticism from one of its factory riders? “We’ve heard Maverick’s message,” Marketing and Communications Manager William Favero said. “The situation we’ve been in for months has probably led us to neglect what Maverick is referring to. What we have to say about it is that we will do everything in our power to make him feel comfortable and part of a team.”

Maverick Viñales
Message sent: Under the watchful eye of Yamaha top brass at the inaugural Thailand Grand Prix, Maverick Viñales (25) earned his fourth podium of the 2018 season. During the course of the race, he passed Movistar Yamaha MotoGP teammate Valentino Rossi (46), who finished fourth, 1.564 seconds behind race winner Marc Márquez.Courtesy of Yamaha

What else could Favero say? Yamaha management previously claimed it didn’t know to what extent the relationship between Viñales and his crew chief, Ramón Forcada, had deteriorated. Now it can no longer ignore the situation.

I initially took Viñales’ comments as simply being fed up with feeling like a nobody on his own team. But several statements Viñales made after the race on Sunday—in which he was a close third behind Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso—caused me to realize that, once again, one of my favorites maxims applies here: At this level, nothing just happens. Behind every action, behind every word, there is motivation.

Viñales finished one place ahead of his factory teammate, nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi. I asked Viñales if, at some point, he thought about getting involved in the last-lap fight between race leaders Márquez and Dovizioso. “No,” he replied. “I was at the limit, and I was more worried who I had behind me. I focused on protecting all the gaps.”

This response opened the door to ask how important it was for Viñales to be the first Yamaha to finish the race. “Very,” he replied. “Here, in Thailand, Yamaha bosses came and it was important to do well. I think today they were sent a good message.”

This was the second time in a little more than 48 hours that Viñales had raised his hand. His statement to Sky TV was not a coincidence. He stepped forward to 1) put media attention on himself; and 2) defend himself as a sportsman. And now it’s on to Motegi in Japan for round 16. The Yamaha bigwigs who were in Thailand will also be in Japan.

At Motegi, Yamaha will have more of a race between its two riders than its two riders will have against the rest of the field. Rossi will be out to maintain his supremacy as team leader, while Viñales will aim to regain the status he had when he arrived at Yamaha in 2017 and won three of the first five races of the season.

What happens next weekend at Motegi will be of great importance. Viñales is aware of this, and so is Rossi. All attention is on the Japanese Grand Prix.