Maverick Vinales says that his opening day of track action at the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix was “one of his best days” so far onboard Aprilia’s RS-GP machine – and goes into Saturday’s sprint race at the Red Bull Ring bullish about his hopes of finally becoming the first rider in MotoGP history to win on three different manufacturers’ machines.
The Spaniard ended the day second-fastest only to Marco Bezzecchi, a mere 0.044 seconds behind the VR46 Ducati rider, but told The Race afterwards that he feels like the Aprilia team has made a significant step forward at a track where it didn’t necessarily expect to impress given past form.
Rivals took note, too. Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco admitted being “really surprised” by the laptimes of the RS-GP, specifically in Vinales’ hands.
“In Silverstone [Aprilia starring] could be normal because of the strong advantage in the corner speed, but here it’s just brake and gas.
“Vinales has been fast and he’s saying that he’s feeling pretty good. Aprilia has been pretty good after the summer break.”
“A very good day,” Vinales himself said at the end of the day’s action. “Honestly, I’m pretty happy about the day because it’s one of my best days since joining Aprilia. How I rode, how I pushed the bike. This is something amazing, because every time I go on the track the guys are understanding more and more what I need and we are doing the steps. That’s huge.
“It was a surprise for me. Before going to FP1, I was thinking maybe I can do a 1m30-mid or -high lap with the medium tyre I would be happy, and on the third lap I did 1m30.2s. I was pretty ‘wow! OK! That’s good!’
“Then in the afternoon, 1m29-medium with the race configuration is fast! Honestly, really fast compared to last year! But it’s what I always say: feet on the ground, it’s only Friday. We need to enjoy these days too though because they make a big difference to our lives.”
Even better for Vinales than a notable uptick in Aprilia performance from last year is the extra element that he believes is influencing Friday’s results: his own increased ability to ride the RS-GP, something that he’s been working hard on since first splitting from the factory Yamaha team at the Austrian circuit in 2021.
“On braking, every time I feel better and better,” Vinales explained. “I can be more precise, I can put the wheels in the right place. With this bike, with the aerodynamics, I feel like if you can do that then afterwards it is a rocket. You can push the gas.
“For me it’s a compromise between myself and the bike, not only the bike. It’s much more in my hands now and I can do much more what I want on the track. I can take different lines than last year and I can maximise the performance of the bike. That’s fantastic – honestly one of my best days on the Aprilia. That’s something very nice.
“I hope and I wish that we can find the extra tenths that we need for the race. I can try, and I’m curious. I feel curious to see ourselves at the maximum potential. Today we were close.”
His improvement in riding style is also something that team-mate Aleix Espargaro commented on as he spoke to the media about his own opening day at the track.
Finishing seventh overall and less than half a second from Vinales, he also paid tribute to a bike that has significantly improved since last year – but also says that that missing half a second comes from the x-factor that Vinales is bringing at the minute.
“Normally I struggle in these types of layout,” he said of the Red Bull Ring. “I struggle to stop the bike completely, on these stop-and-go tracks, because I like to be able to release the front brake, so it’s more me. But I’m satisfied because the bike has clearly improved.
“I’m pleased I have good data from Maverick too, because today he made the difference. He was very fast. The bike is better than in the past, but today Maverick did the difference with his pace and his fast lap. Hopefully I can learn and improve from him.
“In general, we can stop the bike a little better than in the past, but Maverick much better than me. He’s doing the difference.”
With an opportunity to add to his Suzuki and Yamaha race wins not only on Sunday during the main race but also during Saturday’s sprint race, it means that Vinales is going into the weekend’s two races confident even before seeing how qualifying pans out – and with a clear strategy for the races that he admits may entail taking some risks.
“It’s going to be very close,” he admitted, “because everyone is riding on the same laptimes, and it’ll make a big difference if we can start in the front. If I can make four or five qualifying laps, it’ll make a difference. I tried it today and it made a big difference, opened a big gap.
“The strategy will be to try to be first in the first corner and then keep pushing. That’s the way – to push. If you crash, bad luck, but you need to push.”