Since the early days of their Grand Prix racing career, Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales have been close rivals, growing up through the classes together, fighting for championships (with Vinales narrowly taking the 2013 Moto3 title), and scrapping together at every possible opportunity.
They’ve even ridden for the same MotoGP team, though not simultaneusly, with Rins brought into the factory Suzuki squad in 2017 to replace the departing Vinales as he headed to Monster Energy Yamaha – seats that the pair have held since then.
It means there’s a certain irony to how much their careers have followed the same back in the years since then, even as they’ve moved apart in many ways.
Both are arguably the fastest riders in their respective squads on a given day, with Rins demonstrating time and again in 2020 that he had the beating of Joan Mir on the right day. Similarly, Vinales has unarguably been faster than Valentino Rossi for his entire Yamaha stint, and he demonstrated in the opening race of 2021 that even new team-mate Fabio Quartararo is unable to stop him when he’s on form.
Yet there’s another worrying thing that they both share, as well – the inability to find the consistency that’s the only way to put together a title challenge.
“It’s strange because I’ve been racing in MotoGP since 2017,” said Rins ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix. “I think I can say that I was already competitive in 2018 and in 2019, 2020 I was quite strong, and always my rivals don’t bet on me! I don’t know if it’s a mental thing or what.”
Yet the reality is abundantly clear – like Vinales, it seems when the pressure is piled on, Rins struggles. Twice last year he crashed out of the lead of races, arguably throwing away more than enough points to comfortably take the title from team-mate Joan Mir.
2021 hasn’t started any better, either, with mistakes in both Portugal and in Spain last weekend while in strong positions but under pressure to chase down the guy in front of him. It’s the single biggest flaw in Rins’ armour, and until he addresses the issue it’s going to continue to mean that he can’t be counted as a title rival.
In the Vinales camp, it’s the same issue manifesting itself in a very different way. The Yamaha rider isn’t one to crash, very rarely failing to finish a race – but when he’s having a bad day, he becomes invisible, just like he did in last weekend’s race at Jerez.
Fading back through the pack before rallying a little towards the end when he can make the most of the Yamaha’s pace on used tyres, it always comes as too little too late, with any chance to take a podium finish long gone.
Arguably, though, if you had to pick a rider to mould into a more complete package from the two of them, it would probably be Rins. There’s an old adage in racing about how it’s always easier to teach a fast rider how to stop crashing than it is to make a slow rider go faster, and the reality for Vinales is that when he’s having an off day he’s just plain slow – while Rins’ bad days are more often characterised by being too fast!