Here are some general thought about today’s news that Yamaha has probably sacked Maverick Viñales because of his treatment of his motorcycle in last week’s Austrian Grand Prix:
1. The 2021 Yamaha M1 is, obviously, a very capable MotoGP bike. While the M1 has struggled in years past with performance and reliability issues, clearly, the ’21 bike is pretty well sorted. It has won races, and is currently leading the world championship in the hands of Fabio Quatrararo.
2. That said, Maverick has endured several seasons of racing with a less than capable motorcycle. It wasn’t that long ago that Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis and other Yamaha execs issued apologies to Maverick and his then teammate Valentino Rossi for the performance and design issues that plagued an older version of the M1. Also, just last year, Yamaha built all of the M1 engines with faulty valves, forcing Yamaha riders to ride with a lower RPM limit so as to make it stop puking hard parts out the exhaust. On an already slow motorcycle.
3. Maverick has been doing a MotoGP rider’s version of Holden Caufield for some time now. He’s suspicious of seemingly everyone and everything regarding his side of the Yamaha MotoGP garage. Yamaha has been trying to placate him with different crew chiefs, chassis and parts configurations to try and put a package underneath him that he can use to be competitive. Seemingly Maverick feels, as Caufield did in Catcher that most of the Yama-world he knows is populated by fakes (Salinger’s book is jokingly referred to as the official novel of the Association of Lone Gunman).
4. Most big money rider contracts have performance clauses written into them which specify action that can be taken if bad results happen or the rider behaves in a less than professional manner. Maverick’s dead last finishing position in Germany probably put him on official warning status with Yamaha. This is significant. Then Yamaha released him from the second year of his contract just before the race at Red Bull Ring. Maverick then apologized to his fans for “my behavior” before this latest development.
This latest incident supposedly saw Viñales pin the throttle on his Yamaha in the closing laps of the Austrian Grand Prix reputedly to damage the engine. Yamaha noted this in their press release this morning, suggesting that Maverick doing so …”could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race.”
5. From the video uploaded today on the MotoGP.com web site, from the on-board camera on Viñales’ bike, it’s clear that Maverick did give the M1 “the Italian tune up” a few times at the end of the Austrian GP. If the video on MotoGP is the incident in total it’s really not as bad as you might expect if you have watched someone at a late night gathering pinning a clapped out old Hurricane until it self-immolates. However, if Maverick was on a probationary status after his dead last finish then he was already on notice from Yamaha that they were not going to overlook any further incidents. This is how, as a rider, you get heavily fined or suspended by the company paying you millions to race their product.
6. Pinning the throttle of a MotoGP engine so it lays on the rev limiter is not going to be found in the “Good Practices” section of the M1 service manual. However, that said, the rev limiter is there to stop the engine from revving itself hard enough to make the internals go yard sale. Did he really hurt the engine? Doubtful. Was it possible that he endangered the safety of his fellow riders? Probably not. Was it behavior becoming professional rider? No. Is Maverick the first frustrated world championship rider to want to, as guitar-smashing Pete Townsend used to say, “Make the equipment pay”? No, not at all. And trust me it has happened a lot more often than most are aware.
7. Consider Viñales’ path to MotoGP. This is a rider who was groomed by his parents to be a champion motorcycle racer. He was also groomed by MotoGP to be a contender for the world championship. Was the journey to MotoGP one that instilled resilience and character in him, like Casey Stoner, racing on cast-off tires and surviving on back door hospitality leftovers if he was lucky? Not really; when Viñales was a 125 rider his team was sponsored by celebrity Paris Hilton. Was the process too easy and helped create a 26-year old racer who seemingly looks everywhere for blame when he’s slow but is reluctant to blame the fellow looking back at him in the mirror in the morning? Probably.