until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Insane MotoGP win destroys every Vinales stereotype

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

This just isn't how he wins, right?

At the age of 29 and with 162 previous premier-class grand prix starts to his name - 16th-most all-time - Maverick Vinales had allowed a very specific image to form of what he is like as a MotoGP rider.

He was a dynamo in his sophomore year at Suzuki in 2016 in particular and retained that edge of pace into Yamaha and Aprilia, yet those latter two stints seemed to be exposing a particular fragility.

There was Vinales: ever-reliable for topping the timesheets at the end of a test day.

Maverick Vinales Aprilia Valencia testing 2023

There was Vinales: consistently towards the sharp end in practice and qualifying (though with a lot more variance in terms of qualifying form on the Aprilia, certainly).

There was Vinales: so quick when there's nobody in front of him.

But also there was Vinales: slow off the line, lethargic in the early laps of race action, mercurial to a point of absurdity, with ups and downs in form so, so very difficult to understand.

Some of it was clearly the bike, but for some of it there was no technical explanation.

Even as riding the V4-engined Aprilia (compared to the inline-four Suzuki and Yamaha, even though Aprilia is the inline-four-iest of the V4s) has become second nature, the image of how Vinales would take his first grand prix win in Aprilia colours was pretty clear.

Indeed, that's what his sprint win the day before at the Circuit of the Americas looked like - stay ahead, hit your marks, attack the track, forget about the rivals.

Sunday left Vinales no such option, though, when the start didn't go too well and a Jorge Martin lunge at Turn 1 sandwiched Pecco Bagnaia between Vinales and himself, with Vinales coming off the loser.

He was 11th tipping into the start-of-lap esses as a result, and at that point - based on countless precedent - his race felt done and dusted.

Vinales' opening-lap position in his GP wins

Maverick Vinales Suzuka Silverstone MotoGP 2016

Great Britain 2016 - 1st
Qatar 2017 - 5th
Argentina 2017 - 1st
France 2017 - 2nd
Australia 2018 - 1st
Netherlands 2019 - 4th
Malaysia 2019 - 1st
Emilia Romagna 2020 - 1st
Qatar 2021 - 6th
USA 2024 - 9th

A cursory look at the data suggests that feeling wasn't entirely fair - Vinales *has* delivered comeback wins in the past, arguably no shortage of them.

But modern MotoGP just isn't very conducive to winning when you're in the lower reaches of the top 10 at the end of the opening lap (a Fabio Di Giannantonio divebomb on Franco Morbidelli allowed Vinales to overtake Morbidelli, and he then quickly dealt with di Giannantonio too so completed lap one in ninth). Especially not for a rider like Vinales, who had repeatedly looked stumped on the Aprilia specifically when faced with the task of clearing a bunch of hard-braking, well-accelerating Ducatis to get to where his pace should have him.

At Le Mans last year, it was exactly like this. A race that looked winnable but one in which he desperately needed to get a move on - so desperately that the result was a 50/50 but ultimately avoidable collision with Bagnaia.

Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) Austin MotoGP 2024

Now, at COTA, there was no apparent desperation. He was methodical in picking off rider after rider, with unrecognisable ease. At Turn 1 on lap one, he looked done - but by as early as six laps later he looked like he would absolutely win the race.

There was a mistake here and there, a couple of failed lunges, but nothing to unsettle the rhythm. The rhythm, perhaps, was the biggest surprise.

The medium tyre clearly helped, and the spectacular Pedro Acosta's effort to keep the soft-rear runners stewing behind him in the early laps also helped, but Vinales had so much pace in hand it looked downright Marc Marquez-esque.

His fastest lap was three tenths of a second better than what anyone else managed, done exactly when he needed to make a break for it.

It's that pace that is more surprising than anything, and its availability seemingly on-tap, that is more surprising than anything. Vinales likes COTA - he won here in his second start in Moto2, and was a fairly reasonable fourth last year - but he doesn't like it this much.

Maverick Vinales wins Austin MotoGP 2024

To hear Vinales explain his improvements in form, the explanation has been almost offensively simple - he's continued to insist it's been just about prioritising the right bike balance between front and rear.

This he traces back to last year. Although there's also the combination of an increased familiarity with the RS-GP, a better level physically and a sudden "click" - as Aprilia stablemate Miguel Oliveira put it - with a 2024 bike that looked like it wasn't working for Vinales in the pre-season.

"I said in the early laps in the test, I was not feeling comfortable with the bike," Vinales had explained after Saturday's sprint. “I had a very strange crash in Malaysia [testing] in the last corner. I had no confidence with the new bike.

"But we worked with the setting and we worked with the balance, and step by step I was feeling better.

“In Qatar [season-opener] it was not enough, I was not riding it at the maximum.

Maverick Vinales Aprilia Portimao MotoGP 2024

"So basically in Portimao we changed a little bit the weight distribution on the bike. And it changed like this [massively].

"Basically now I have the same feeling of last year, but with a bike that is a little bit better, obviously, because of the aerodynamics [producing more downforce]."

How can it possibly be that simple? How can it suddenly make Vinales and Aprilia into a combination that, on the balance of things, should probably be leading the championship after the United States round if not for their Portuguese Grand Prix misfortune?

We'll have a better idea going forward. And there's probably every chance there are big dips on the horizon, especially at tracks that suit team-mate Aleix Espargaro better and where the Ducatis might be less rear chatter-limited.

There will also probably be dips in Vinales' own form regardless of that. Over 160 MotoGP races into his career, that's just who he is.

But when on song, he is incredible. And it is clear many had written him off far, far too early.

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