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He got there in the end. It may have been turbulent, painful and filled with misfortune, but Maverick Viñales has got his season back on track and may finally be approaching his and Yamaha’s full potential.
Half man, half machine, half price!
A near flawless preseason suggested the 24-year old Catalan was approaching the form he showed during a spectacular six-race spell at the opening of 2017. That impression was boosted by free practice speed and pole position in Qatar. Come Sunday, however, and those all-too-familiar flaws from 2018 remained.
Watch Maverick Viñales' pole-winning lap for FREE!
Until round six at Mugello, Viñales’ year followed a frustrating pattern: impressive speed throughout practice only for a poor start and lacklustre opening laps to undo all his good work. In terms of the top results, it mattered little that he has often been one of the quickest riders toward the race’s end.
For months this was a genuine concern; not least because he began the year with new crew chief Esteban Garcia and rider coach Julian Simon, whose attempts at managing his spiky in-box temperament were having little effect on results.
But to his credit Viñales has remained upbeat, a feat in itself considering he has been taken out of races on three occasions (Argentina, France and Barcelona). There have been few signs of the rider in a depressed funk that was so regularly apparent throughout 2018.
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There was a breakthrough of sorts at the Circuit of Barcelona. For once he was slow on Friday, his efforts instead focussed on working methodically for the race’s opening. There he got his best start of the year, attacked opponents on the first lap and appeared on course to challenge Marc Marquez for victory until Jorge Lorenzo’s careless mistake brought him down.
From there Viñales hasn’t looked back. He topped the post-race test in Barcelona, won brilliantly at Assen after a nip-and-tuck fight with Marquez, and then held off Cal Crutchlow for a fine second place at the Sachsenring. For the first time since the Spring of ’17, the 2013 Moto3™ World Champion is consistently in the hunt for podiums.
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His recent form led Marquez to identify him as one of two men that will challenge him the most in the second part of 2019. And with this year’s Yamaha M1, Viñales has the tools to do it. The bike’s top speed disadvantage was critical at Le Mans and Mugello. But what it lacks in outright speed, it has improved in tyre conservation. Maintaining its excellent agility, Yamaha finally appears to have understood how to manage Michelin’s rear tyre for a full race distance.
In recent weeks Viñales has experimented with Ohlins’ traditional front forks after starting the year on the carbon components. At the Brno test he can expect to sample Yamaha’s 2020 M1 for the first time, another sign the Iwata factory is getting its house in order behind the scenes.
His current position of fifth overall, 100 points back of Marquez, suggests a world title challenge will have to wait for another year. But his recent performances suggest Viñales and Yamaha are finally getting it right.
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