Maverick Vinales has come away from his first race as an Aprilia MotoGP rider delighted with the progress that he’s made – but still very aware that there’s plenty of work to be done before he can return to race-winning ways on the Italian machine after defecting mid-season from Yamaha.
Vinales finished the Aragon Grand Prix outside the points in 18th, 27 seconds from race winner Pecco Bagnaia and 18s from new team-mate Aleix Espargaro – but having gone into the weekend insisting that it was more a chance to learn the bike than to win the race, he was pleased with the outcome come the chequered flag.
“The race was positive for me and I understood many things on the bike,” said Vinales afterwards, “especially the areas where we need to work. It’s quite clear what points of the track I need to improve in to be a little bit faster, and when we do this I think we’ll make a big step.
“But we just need to keep making laps, to understand well, and for me to know the bike a little bit more and to be able to push a little more.
“I did the same pace as I did in FP4, and I didn’t lose any grip, which is important as well. I had good potential at the beginning of the race but I felt a little limited as I had some riders in front and didn’t know the bike, didn’t know how much I could push, but in the middle of the race I felt quite nice.
“At the end, we could push. I need to recollect the information from the race, the team needs to understand me and I need to understand them, and in the end we have to be fast for 40 minutes.
“It’s hard, because everyone is going fast, but step by step I’m completely sure that we will arrive – and this is only the first step.”
And in fact, despite being just under a second per lap slower than Espargaro at the end of the 22 laps, Vinales was quick to point out that in race pace there was plenty to make him feel optimistic.
“Starting from the back you lose so much in the first laps, over one second a lap,” he stated to explain his drop from the leaders early on in the race.
“But I was able to concentrate and when I was alone I was able to set a rhythm that wasn’t bad at all. I was quite close to the top guys.
“There are points where we need to improve, that’s clear, especially in the first few laps of the race. I felt quite good on the bike, which is important, and I learned where we need to improve.”
That’s actually reflected in the post-race time analysis, with Vinales’ slowest laps (a series of 1m50s laps) coming early on in the race. By the end, though, he was able to set a comfortable rhythm, with his final 14 laps of the race coming within half a second of each other in the mid-1m49s range.
That contrasts with Espargaro, who spent most of the race lapping in the high 1m48s ballpark – but was actually significantly slower than his team-mate for the final three laps of the race as his tyres started to fade away.
There is clearly still work for Vinales to do as he continues to adapt his Yamaha-centric riding style to the V4-engined Aprilia.
Not carrying the same corner speed as Yamaha’s inline-four engined M1, the Italian bike more than makes up for it on corner entry with amazing stability – and Vinales admits that he needs to change his style to suit that. And his early debut gives him time to in the late-2021 races.
“I need to improve a lot the corner entry,” he conceded, “because I was used to doing it in one way and now I have to change that and do it in another way.
“Still we need time, but I’m sure it’ll arrive. In traction I felt very good, and tyre life was very good tight until the end. I could push until the last laps, and there are positive things even if the race wasn’t perfect.
“I’m not in my comfort zone anymore, and this is a big challenge. The result is the result, but this situation is like a wish come true and it means I can start working, understanding each other.
“I would like to be at the front from the first race, but that’s not fair. Now I need to work hard and step by step we’ll get there.”