Viñales penalty: a victory costing mistake?

Did a jump start and two long lap penalty attempts in Austin cost the Spaniard a potential race win?

The Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas didn’t go to plan for Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). A jump start, followed by incorrect usage of the long lap penalty twice and then his actual penalty of a ride through meant the Spaniard had to settle for P11 in Austin.

“Yeah I misunderstood the penalty a little bit,” admitted Viñales, who initially took the long lap penalty route on two occasions before having to come through pitlane. “But anyway, it’s a big mistake. I think it was a good race for us, we showed good pace after the ride through, I could ride really easily in 2:04. It is like this, we have to think about Jerez and try to be stronger there.”

The gap separating Viñales from eventual race winner Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was 34.077 seconds at the chequered flag. Looking at the lap by lap data during the race, Viñales lost around 25 seconds when completing his ride through. Then, when speaking to Spanish broadcaster DAZN after the race, Viñales admits to taking the long lap penalty twice.

“I didn't understand the dashboard very well, but I neither had much time to read it. I thought that with the long lap penalty, I was ok, but then I saw ride through again, and then I entered. I first did one, that in reality wasn't a long lap, because I went wide, but on the next lap, I did it well. I moved a little bit at the starts, but was a good start, I gained some positions before arriving at the first corner. After the ride through I was feeling good, we were in good lap times, I didn't expect the pace we had.”

Judging by the 2013 Moto3™ World Champion’s laps, the two times he attempted the long lap penalty – a 2:08.077 on Lap 4 and 2:10.034 on Lap 5, compared to a 2:04.999 on Lap 3 and 2:04.615 on Lap 8 – cost him an additional ten seconds or so, with Viñales running consistent mid to low 2:05s and high 2:04s for most of the race. Add this ten seconds onto the 25 seconds lost in pitlane and his gap to both Rins and teammate Valentino Rossi is nothing.

So, upon reflection, it wasn’t just a podium place Viñales may have lost down to his mistake at the start. A first win of the season looks to have been a real possibility for the 24-year-old. However, of course, it's all ifs and buts. Nevertheless, looking at the positives, race-winning pace during the Americas GP is a good sign for the number 12 rider heading into the first European round of the season – the Spanish GP in Jerez.

“The thing is the bike was working really good, we found a good setup for the race, we need to keep working, finding the best system to start. The start was good, at least I didn’t lose any position and I overtake some riders on the start. Let’s see. Let’s see at the next races.”

Viñales hasn’t scored a podium at the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto since his win there back in his Moto3™ title-winning year in 2013. An 11th, two sixth place finishes and a 7th last year are his premier class results – can the Spaniard battle for his first rostrum of the season in his home country?

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