until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Does Vinales no longer fit Aprilia's Martin-led MotoGP future?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Maverick Vinales' time as a Yamaha MotoGP rider officially ended on August 20, 2021, days after the team suspended him for his infamous over-revving of his M1's engine at the Red Bull Ring.

It was the denouement of that particular story, but the point of no return had come much earlier. And if you were to pick a specific date, there are certainly worse dates to go for than January 29, 2020 - the day Yamaha signed Fabio Quartararo for Valentino Rossi's seat in 2021.

Quartararo's ludicrous ascension broke Vinales. As mid-season 2021 rolled around, he greeted his second place at Assen - second in a Yamaha 1-2 behind his irrepressible team-mate - with a face full of thunder. One race later, now a miserable 77 points down on Quartararo, he was stood down.

Quartararo, of course, went on to win the title that year, with an increasingly-finicky Yamaha nobody but him could really make work. At the same time, Vinales' Aprilia path began - and he could rightly argue that he's had if not the last laugh, then at least the latest laugh.

A topsy-turvy adaptation process to a foreign but increasingly potent RS-GP has taken him to more than three times the points of Quartararo's badly-outmatched Yamaha M1 so far this season. And Vinales' 2024 peaks - in particular his force-of-nature walkover of the Circuit of the Americas round - is something Yamaha cannot even dream of right now.

But it's also the kind of result that showed why, having rebuffed Yamaha's advances earlier, Jorge Martin has now jumped into Aprilia's waiting arms virtually the second it became clear Ducati was going to overlook him for factory red.

In theory, therefore, Vinales' bursts of success on the RS-GP have resulted in him getting a headache on the other side of the garage - but also a potential re-run of the Quartararo scenario, and thus a chance to show that he can hang with a hotshot upstart parachuted into his team.

But it's a chance that, rumour has it, he might not be taking.

Aprilia's all-Spanish plan

Jorge Martin Maverick Vinales

Martin leads the MotoGP title race right now. Aprilia has not signed him just to shore up its line-up - as one of modern MotoGP's most obviously talented riders, with a potentially unparalleled single-lap burst of pace, Martin is a championship-calibre rider.

Its excitement about the signing, and its rush to get it over the line, was barely concealed, and in that rush it forgot to tell Vinales what it was doing.

"I'm curious to see what Aprilia will do with the riders," Vinales said in a media session during the rained-out Monday test at Mugello, right at the same time as Aprilia will have been putting the finishing touches on Martin's contract.

And when asked about Martin as a prospective team-mate, he said: "We are talking about hypotheses. I don't know what to say!"

A few hours later, Martin was unveiled - and Aprilia made it clear Martin/Vinales was its ideal line-up.

"If Maverick stays, the new ‘Capitano’ will be Maverick," insisted Aprilia CEO Massimo Rivola when asked whether Martin or Vinales would initially take over that symbolic mantle of project spearhead from the retiring Aleix Espargaro.

"He [Vinales] fought in a bad period of Aprilia, he brought Aprilia to the top level, he showed us a different way of riding the bike compared to Aleix.

“In case he stays, the captain will be Maverick and not Jorge - I'm sorry for Jorge, but you need to gain that merit on track. Which he has done - but on another bike. 

"In any team, you give the grade to the most experienced, the senior one, and Maverick did all the process with us."

It is, let us be clear, a purely semantic distinction. Whatever rights of seniority Vinales could enjoy would immediately vanish if Martin outpaced him in the first test, whether it be at the end of 2024 or the start of 2025. And Rivola was probably minded anyway to be publicly kind to a rider who Aprilia had just forgotten to inform about the seismic Martin signing.

But it's also a clear message for Vinales to stick around.

"I think we have found good set-up parameters to maintain him at the right level," said Aprilia tech chief Romano Albesiano of Vinales. "Still we need to improve to keep all these numbers in the right range - but if you consider the last races of '23 and the races so far in '24, the average is much better than in the past.

"So the trend for me is very positive - it's not finished, but it's a good process."

A 2024 standout?

Vinales has had two totally crummy weekends in 2024 - Qatar, which he had put down to not yet having zeroed in on the balance he needs on the revised '24 RS-GP, and Barcelona, in which he just had nothing on the low-grip surface.

Outside of that, the 29-year-old has been outstanding. His double Austin win will be the obvious calling card, but Vinales has increasingly wrested the status of fastest RS-GP rider away from Espargaro, and even a seemingly pale weekend at Mugello showed him from a good side more so than a bad one.

Aprilia just wasn't anything to write home about at the Italian track, appearing severely limited in terms of what it could give its riders coming out of Bucine onto the main straight in particular, but Vinales dragged the RS-GP to a (Pecco Bagnaia penalty-assisted) front row start anyway, and was the sole rider not on a Desmosedici in the top six in qualifying.

He went backwards at the start in both races, and struggled to fight, which plays into some Vinales stereotypes. But this came a weekend after Espargaro lined up on Barcelona pole twice and was down to fifth after lights out both times. It's an Aprilia thing.

That Martin would just waltz in and dominate Vinales is no foregone conclusion. The RS-GP's reputation for most of its time in MotoGP has been that of a bike designed in Espargaro's image, suiting his 'static' riding style of minimal body movement.

Vinales, for his part, was regarded as an aggressive, point-and-shoot type of rider for most of his career, and his unease at trying to deliver a riding style he felt the Aprilia required had been well-documented.

Some process like that surely awaits Martin, too, given he's arguably MotoGP's poster boy for hanging off the bike and doing the work with body movement.

Aprilia, for what it's worth, isn't concerned. Albesiano made it clear he saw no reason Martin's style shouldn't fit the RS-GP, meeting the very notion with a derisive chuckle. And Martin's sheer talent means it would be unwise to bet against a swift adaptation.

Which is not to say he would always have an upper hand over Vinales. But the problem for Vinales remains consistency - as in 2024 so far, with five good weekends and two very bad ones.

That kind of 2/7 rate just doesn't happen to Martin or guys like Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, even Pedro Acosta, and it's the kind of thing you'd expect to swing any Martin-Vinales contest in the end.

Set for split?

Unfortunately, that may have to remain in the realm of pure theory.

Vinales' former Moto3 team manager Ricard Jove, who was at the forefront of the original Vinales-to-Aprilia story three years ago, has revealed on a recent appearance on the Dura La Vita podcast - a pet project of one Jorge Lorenzo - that he believes Vinales has already told Aprilia he's off.

There's even the suggestion that he had done so before Aprilia made its Martin move - although that would make some of Rivola's subsequent rhetoric somewhat incongruous.

Even with Martin's signature on the books, Vinales would be a considerable loss for Aprilia. He is its fastest current rider whose departure would rob it of crucial continuity.

It would also rob us of a deeply fascinating Vinales-Martin match-up, even if Martin would be the heavy favourite long-term.

Then again, Vinales' time alongside Quartararo showed how that kind of dynamic might end up - both Vinales and Yamaha were worse off for him signing that final extension.

Maybe another move, a move to what rumours say may take Vinales to his fourth manufacturer in MotoGP, is more narratively satisfying for the series' definitive nomad.

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