Ever since first making his Yamaha debut at the start of the 2017 MotoGP season, Maverick Vinales has been the undisputed king of winter testing.
He’s regularly absolutely untouchable when it comes to preparing for the season to start – only to then struggle when the action gets underway in earnest.
It’s not like he’s unaware of the problem, either – and we’ve heard the Yamaha rider pledge multiple times to try to fix the issue by changing how he approaches testing, only to inevitably end up in the same position once again come the start of the actual season.
So far 2021 has been no different, with the recently-announced father-to-be and recently married man telling the media at the team’s launch last month that he was once again targeting not how to improve the obviously-flawed Yamaha M1 on the track but to start with addressing his own flaws.
“What I try to do is to stay calm,” Vinales told journalists at the team launch. “That’s the most important thing for me.
“After all these years, I’ve tried a lot of things and maybe moved too fast. What I want now is to be calm, to have the mindset that we can’t have super results all the time – that sometimes it’s OK to have a bad day.
“I need to find people around me who help me find stability. I’ve talked a lot with Maio [Meregalli] and Lin [Jarvis], and they understand that sometimes it’s difficult but they also understand what I need to do to be fast.
“Every year we understand and learn a little bit more. Every year I give my maximum to be as fast as possible and to be at the top.”
With the first two days of pre-season testing now completed – and with only three more remaining at the Losail international circuit before the Qatari track will host the opening two races of the year – Vinales is adamant that, so far, his new approach is paying off.
“I’ve been making long runs to try and understand things,” he said after the two days.
“I need time to say what happens when we change something, to say ‘this is working like this or like that.’
“The job is done from the first two days, and it was important to finish them and to be able to say ‘OK, job well done’.
“I’m happy that everyone has worked well and I can’t wait to get back on the bike.
“It’s very important to understand where we can improve, and we spent most of the first day trying to understand that.
“When the track wasn’t good, I very quickly found the bike sliding, and on the second day I started at 2pm when the grip was low – and the result was very good.
“I’ve worked with the electronics a lot to do that, but for sure now at the next test we have many items to try.”
And with that new approach seems to have come some initially positive results, with Vinales (who was reserved after day one) a lot more upbeat second time around despite finishing Sunday seventh overall.
“We know we can be amazing in qualifying. But we’re not amazing in the first laps of the race” :: Maverick Vinales
“I’m really happy and pleased about the test – honestly speaking, it’s been really positive,” he said.
“Yamaha has been working really well. We’ve concentrated a lot on the rhythm, and honestly it felt fantastic.
“I was surprised and happy that the consistency was there, especially with the tyres.
“At the end of the day, we did five or six laps and phew, for us it was fantastic – it was exactly what we were looking for.
“So I’m very happy about the test, and I can’t wait to get back on the bike and improve even more.”
What’s even more promising for him is that the improvements have come without trying out Yamaha’s new chassis.
It’s designed to give the same sensations as the 2019 model used successfully by Franco Morbidelli last year, but with retooled engine mounts to hold the slightly different 2020 engine and its frozen design.
Fellow Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi’s feedback was underwhelming after back-to-back testing it alongside his old bike from last year.
“We haven’t worked yet with the new chassis,” Vinales admitted, “we’ve just been working with a few new parts on the old package.
“I’ve been concentrating on riding style, on hitting the laptimes, stressing the bike and trying to get the flow.
“We’ve worked with the electronics a lot, and I can see many interesting things – that’s why I’m so positive.
“I’m working very hard for the race. We’re trying to improve for that. We know we have the speed, we know we can do one lap, we know we can be amazing in qualifying.
“But we’re not amazing in the first laps of the race and not even on the start, and those are the points where we’re working very hard.
“Maybe my position could have been much better and I could have rode faster, but I’m really happy with the feeling of the bike to be able to make the rhythm.
“We’ll see in the next test, and we need to try a time attack, but I’m really happy with the work that Yamaha have done over the winter.”
While he might be delighted with his new approach so far, Vinales is also not getting carried away until he gets a chance to make sure his new solutions work when what he believes to be the real bane of his life emerges – the Dunlop rubber laid down by Moto2 and Moto3 bikes ahead of the main event every Sunday afternoon.
“When the grip goes down, I see interesting things in my riding style and I’m really pleased with the test, really happy,” he continued.
“I was quite surprised, because I was able to ride 1m54s laps in the afternoon when the grip wasn’t that good. I was able to ride really fast.
“It’s really difficult to say that the problem is solved because there is no Moto2 here. It’s hard to say it, but I’m working on the riding style and the electronics to try and solve something.
“I’m hoping it helps when the grip is low, and for sure we have many parts to test in the next few days but I want to get time to see if I can solve this problem with my riding, not just try to fix it with the bike.“