Maverick Vinales Q&A: What Yamaha must do for 2021 MotoGP glory

Maverick Vinales enters his fifth season as a factory Yamaha MotoGP rider in 2021, and it will perhaps be the most significant one he has faced. He speaks exclusively to Autosport about the year ahead and what needs to happen for Yamaha to fight for the championship

Maverick Vinales Q&A: What Yamaha must do for 2021 MotoGP glory

The eight-time MotoGP race winner endured a torrid 2020 campaign on his M1, with a sole victory at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix the highlight of a campaign of wild inconsistency.

With the 2021 regulations staying frozen in regards to engine development for most as part of COVID-19 cost-saving measures, Yamaha has had to focus on other areas of its troubled M1 package over the winter to try and find a cure for its woes.

Within the team itself, Vinales is joined by Fabio Quartararo - who endured similar woes in 2020, but managed three victories and had the better of Vinales for much of the season.

In an exclusive interview with Autosport ahead of the 2021 season, Vinales explained how he feels Yamaha needs to approach the new campaign to ensure a consistent challenge.

Maverick Vinales 2020 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Maverick Vinales 2020 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Photo by: Gold and Goose

AUTOSPORT: You mentioned at the team launch in February you felt Yamaha wasn’t as united as it could be. What did you mean?

Maverick Vinales: “Well, it’s not easy to make a strong team, it’s very difficult. But as I said, my first year in Yamaha, my team sometimes… they were not one. For example, we were not all going to the same dinner, to the same lunch. We were always going separately. I was meaning that, we were not going everyone, like in one pack, always and happy. So, with the introduction of Esteban [Garcia, crew chief] and Julito [Julian Simon, rider performance analyst] it’s what we are trying to do because I know and as I feel as a person I need to feel good and feel relaxed, and to feel relaxed I need to know that everyone is going in the same way. It’s what we are trying to do, we are trying to work on that.

"But anyway, finally I think Yamaha understands that very well, so they are trying to help me to make me stay calm and stay relaxed. I think this is the best way for me to take out all my potential, it’s what we are working on. For sure, on my own, I am working a lot, but I think we are year-by-year we are getting better. Finally, what we need to really need to get better is the consistency of the bike.

"This is what we need to really improve, because as a rider it’s so complicated to have one race to have the chance to win and the next race you can’t even finish P10. So, this is so complicated for a rider, but it’s something in Yamaha we are working really hard on. In 2019, I was more consistent. Last year I was going through inconsistent results, but I think we need to work well this year to have the chance to be on the podium each race. This is the key to have the chance also to fight for a bigger objective."

AS: How have you worked on yourself over the winter having gone through the difficulties of 2020? Some of your debriefs, you were really downbeat…

MV: “You grow up day-by-day. Sometimes it’s too difficult to understand when you don’t have any explanation. It’s so hard because it’s not like ‘Ok, I’m P10 because I did this, or the bike did that’, but in the end you don’t have an explanation. So, when you don’t understand things it’s very complicated to get calm, to get relaxed because you never know what can happen.

"For example, I finished [the] Austria [double-header] with really bad results, but then I arrive to Misano and had the chance to win both races. So, you know what I mean, it’s very hard for your head because one day looks like you are really bad and the next day you are a superstar!

PLUS: How Yamaha's new era can unchain Vinales

"So, it’s pretty crazy for the head. But, we are working very hard with the team to get this done, to make the bike have a chance to win each race. This is the most important for us right now, it’s our priority. So, we are very focused for the two days of testing [on Saturday and Sunday] to try all the parts, all the big stuff the first days.

"Once I get to the bike, I can try many things and then I can leave the next three days to work for the race, work on the rhythm and to work on other things. But we need to a good plan and it’s something we are working on. For sure we can do. I trust the team a lot, I trust the people I have around myself and I think we can do it."

Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo 2020 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo 2020 MotoGP Portuguese GP

Photo by: Gold and Goose

AS: Like you say, you need more consistency from the bike. Yamaha confirmed the 2021 bike will be closer to Franco Morbidelli’s 2019-derived M1, which is the bike you preferred. Is that something that encourages you?

MV: “Well, I think it’s very important for us to get a clear direction because we don’t need to get lost in the middle of the season. Normally, what happens for us is always repeating the same thing: we start very strong, and then we get lost. So, we don’t need to do the same mistake. We need to go with one plan and go at the maximum, and don’t look at the other year’s engine or look to Franco’s spec. We need to find one way and what we need to do to is to stay loyal to that one way, not changing in the middle of the season because it can be one race where you are better or worse. But we need to find the way to be strong every race, this is the most important thing and for that we need to make a strong plan and don’t lose the faith in this plan."

AS: Do you think that will be easier to do now you have Fabio Quartararo by your side, who generally has a similar feeling to you on the Yamaha?

MV: “Hmm… honestly, we will try to focus on ourselves, we will try to do our stuff. It’s important that Fabio let’s say has the same feedback, because you don’t have to go in two directions as a team. But, we need to believe in ourselves, we need to believe in our stuff and we need to push Yamaha to work in that way. This is what we will try to do and we will try to do it well. This is the most important things, because if you do the job and the results aren’t coming, then you’re doing it for nothing. So, we will try to do a good job and we will try to get results. That’s the most important part. That’s why I say we need to a really good plan, just one plan and go for it. We don’t need three, four plans because then we get lost. One plan and go, and this is the thing we have to be clear in the mind. I will push to have one plan and go with that plan."

PLUS: Why Yamaha's rivals should fear Crutchlow's return

The rider changes at Yamaha aren't just confined to the race line-up, as Cal Crutchlow returns to the Japanese marque as test rider. This was a move welcomed by all Yamaha riders last year, with Petronas SRT's Valentino Rossi noting last week that Crutchlow will "make the difference" for Yamaha in 2021. Vinales very much agrees with, and is keen to have Crutchlow's direct character influencing development.

Maverick Vinales and Cal Crutchlow, 2021 MotoGP Qatar test

Maverick Vinales and Cal Crutchlow, 2021 MotoGP Qatar test

Photo by: Gold and Goose

AS: Have you worked closer with Yamaha management and the engineers to try and formulate that unified plan?

MV: “Yeah, I push with all the guys close to me, even with Lin [Jarvis], Maio [Meregalli], with [Takahiro] Sumi, very closely because if we want Yamaha to go back to the top, we need to work closely. We need to tell everything as it is with the truth and without any political side, let’s say. But we need to tell the truth straight, and I think with Yamaha I can have the feeling to do it and this is the important thing to align everything in the same direction and keep growing. I think this is the most important thing.

AS. Like you say, everyone needs to speak frankly this year. They don’t come more straight-talking than Cal Crutchlow. Valentino Rossi said Crutchlow can “make the difference” for Yamaha in 2021. Do you agree?

MV: “Ha, he is the best one to speak the truth! I feel the same as Valentino, I think he can make the difference because for me most of the problems were that on the race weekends I needed to try many things and when I try many things I get lost. Also, I don’t then have enough time to work with myself on the track. He will make the difference, I think. He can say ‘yes or no’. This is the most important thing. I think Cal is good with that, so I have a lot of faith with Cal.

Q. Going back to your team-mate this year, it’s the first time you’ve had a team-mate younger than you in MotoGP. Does a rider need a new team-mate every few years to provide fresh motivation?

MV: “I don’t know. Honestly, as I said, I don’t think on that because I’m thinking a lot about the first day of the test and the way we’re going to face it. I’ve not had enough time to think about it, so I can’t give you a clear answer.

AS. You were wary of Qatar not showing Yamaha’s true potential as the bike always goes well here. Given we’ll be in Qatar for five days of testing and two races, does that make this pre-season the most difficult you’ve had to face?

MV: “Yes, for sure, because we will only test in one track. But Qatar has a special thing that from two o’clock to four o’clock, the track is dusty, so there’s no grip. So we will see if we can work on that, on those hours and see if we can make something clear for Portimao and for the rest of the season. It will be difficult because one month in Qatar, everyone will go fast. Everyone, all riders. So it’s going to be tough to understand where you are, but we need to be smart enough to understand how we will be in the next tracks. So we will see. After the test, I will tell you a bit more about that.

AS: Finally, who is the biggest threat this year. A lot of riders can win races?

MV: “Honestly, every year is getting tougher and tougher, and the bikes are getting better. Nearly all are factory now. As you say, we start the season that 24 riders have the opportunity to do it. So, we will see after the first race who is the guy, who is not the guy. We will see mate, I’m very curious to see. This is nice because it’s very unpredictable.

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