The news that Maverick Vinales will walk away from his two-year Yamaha contract is something of a bombshell to the MotoGP paddock, thanks in large part to the rarity with which riders and teams decide to break their contracts (at least in the premier class).
Very much the exception rather than the rule, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before – but Vinales will be hoping that it doesn’t end in the way that it has for most of the high-profile riders who have walked away from teams in recent years.
Obviously the most high-profile contract break of recent times, the world was stunned when Jorge Lorenzo walked away from the Repsol Honda team at the end of the 2019 season in very similar circumstances to that of Maverick Vinales at Yamaha. Out of love with racing, unable to make the bike work for him and nursing a severe injury, his decision to call it quits was an unexpected one.
Only one year into a two-year deal with the team, who were left scrambling to find a replacement when Lorenzo announced he was retiring at the last round of the championship, it’s undoubtedly easier for a rider to walk away from a deal when they’ve got nowhere else to go, making the whole process somewhat more streamlined than say the Vinales situation.
However, unlike Vinales, Lorenzo made it quite clear at the start that this was not an attempt to find something new: it was instead a genuine retirement. Dabbling only with a Yamaha test rider role that in the end came to nothing, he stuck to his pledge to step away from riding.
From the minute that Johann Zarco sat on the Red Bull KTM, things started to go wrong for him. The combination of bike, rider and team simply didn’t fit together, and for the opening half of 2019 he barely made it into the points – a long way removed from his previous status of regular podium contender at the satellite Tech3 Yamaha squad.
When first reports started to emerge that he was considering a split with the team at the end of only one year, Zarco was quick to dismiss them – but there’s no smoke without fire and before long it was confirmed that, like Vinales, he would leave the team by mutual consent.
However, that wasn’t the end of the tale. Rather more outspoken than even the recently-blunt Vinales, Zarco went too far once too often with his criticisms of the team, and before long he wasn’t just leaving them at the end of the season, he was out, replaced by test rider Mika Kallio.
There’s a silver lining for Vinales to pay attention to, though, with Zarco coming out of the whole kerfuffle smiling, even if he quit the team with no other options available to him.
Able to once again show his form with a three-ride replacement gig at LCR Honda, standing in for Taka Nakagami, which opened the road to a whole reinvention of himself that sees him now sitting second in the championship on a factory-spec Pramac Ducati.
There’s no happy ending for Marco Melandri and his decision to leave Aprilia, however. The 2005 MotoGP runner-up joined the team from the World Superbike paddock in 2015, coming back into MotoGP for the first time since 2010 on an RS-GP machine that’s far removed from the bike that Vinales will race in 2022.
But, four years away from the grand prix paddock, it just didn’t work for the Italian. Out of the points for the first eight races, while team-mate Alvaro Bautista was at least managing to score a few here and there, he too didn’t even make it until the end of the season – ironically announcing that he was quitting at Assen.
Replaced by MotoGP’s new default super-sub Stefan Bradl (who did get the bike into the points on occasion in the second half of the year), the decision ended Melandri’s career in Grand Prix racing, returning him to the WSB paddock for two more years before he finally hung up the helmet.
In 2013, Cal Crutchlow was something of a rising star in MotoGP, thanks to three successful years at Tech3 Yamaha that had delivered a handful of podium finishes. He was the perfect person to join the factory Ducati team just as they started to reorganise after a few tumultuous years after Casey Stoner left and Valentino Rossi came and went, and it looked like Crutchlow (alongside former Tech3 teammate Andrea Dovizioso) was the right man for the job.
Yet it just never quite gelled for Crutchlow from the off. He was the victim of technical problems and injuries, and never found a bike that seemed to work for him, even if he was able to improve towards the end of the season.
Signed up for two years, there were shenanigans with the end of his contract that still haven’t been properly explained, with the Brit announcing only weeks before the official split was confirmed that he was looking forward to his second year with the team after a pledge from them to honour his team despite increasing media speculation that he was on his way out.
Perhaps a savvy business move given he knew that they’d signed Andrea Iannone to replace him, it was confirmed only weeks later that Crutchlow would leave Ducati and head to LCR Honda for the following year – presumably with a big chunk of his Ducati salary thanks to his refusal to walk away quietly on mutual terms!
Aprilia rider Sam Lowes very quickly learned how unforgiving a place the Noale factory’s offices can be in 2017. Signed on a two-year deal, he was very much treated as the number two rider by the team from day one.
Failing to see out the second year of their contract, it didn’t just end his year, it ended his MotoGP aspirations as well.
Lowes was brought into the team as a rookie rider, fresh from fighting for the title in Fausto Gresini’s Moto2 team. However, quickly demoted to the role of test rider alongside Aleix Espargaro, it soon turned into a season of hell as he spent more time sorting out new parts than trying to go fast. Eventually taking only five points all season, he was booted back to Moto2 for the following year.
However, the Aprilia that sacked two riders in two years, with Scott Redding getting similar treatment a year later, seems to have disappeared. The arrival of new team principal Massimo Rivola has settled the squad and its rider management decisions – and it seems highly unlikely that an expensive investment like Maverick Vinales will receive similar treatment.