Maverick Vinales may only be 19 points from the top of the MotoGP standings, but he fears the 2020 season will be another lost title opportunity, as a combination of setbacks take their toll on the factory Yamaha rider with three races to go.
The most obvious is a pit lane start (five seconds after the race begins) for Sunday’s opening Valencia round, after needing to use a sixth different engine this season due to Yamaha’s valve problems at Jerez.
“I knew from many races ago that I would use the sixth engine,” said Vinales, who effectively lost three of his five engines at the opening Jerez round. “Anyway we cannot do anything more, honestly. Because we made a mistake in Jerez and we pay all the season.”
But the Spaniard also spoke of the ‘stressful’ and ‘complicated’ situation caused by his inconsistency on the latest M1, labelling much of the season as a ‘nightmare’ as he feels increasingly powerless to influence the performance of the bike.
“I feel very strange, honestly, because it’s too many things,” Vinales said. “First of all about the engines, because I’m struggling all season with the engines, but also it’s not the best on the bike.
“For sure, for one specific track, one specific tyre, one specific temperature it’s working well, like we see in Misano and Jerez, but the rest of the season has been a nightmare for us.
“I only had a good feeling in a few races, in the rest I was not competitive enough. Then the team, every time more people are leaving from my side [due to Covid protocols, including one of Vinales’ crew testing positive on Friday and four other team members also going into self-isolation] and we don’t have good replacements.
“So I feel more alone with the bike and we cannot make nothing because we don’t have enough experience and enough let’s say information to change the bike.
“So finally what we do is arrive here and if the bike is working well, it’s perfect. But if the bike doesn’t work you have to delete all the weekend.
“Basically, we don’t improve after Misano and it’s been very complicated. So for me it’s been a very stressful situation, because the more that I do, I change everything, the situation is the same.
“So what do I do? I reduce a lot my competitivity on the track because the only thing I do is to get angry, get sad and a lot of frustration because nothing is working.
“So what I’m trying to do now is to help the team, trying to give good feedback and I cannot do more. I need to wait until I have a good weapon. If [not] I try not to injure myself because there are many years ahead for me at Yamaha.
“And especially to not ‘blow up’ myself because in this situation sometimes you blow up yourself because who has the culpability in this case? As a rider, you always take everything into you because you are the one riding the bike.”
Vinales isn’t the only Yamaha rider to struggle with inconsistent form. Like the Spaniard, Petronas title contenders Quartararo and Morbidelli (on the A spec bike) have also only made three visits to the podium this season.
But that’s of little consolation to Vinales, who knows the absence of six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez provided a ‘perfect’ chance to finally win the title.
“Marc is not here so it was a really good opportunity. Honda and Marc are on another level, so for sure it was a perfect situation to win the title. But you know we have lost 2017 and 2020 by the same mistakes,” he said.
“So we’ll see. I don’t want to think too much. I’m calm. I have a perfect situation at home. Perfect people in my life. And my life is really good. So I just want to ride the bike, enjoy and be happy.”
But looking ahead to what is expected to be a dry race, Vinales admitted: “It worries me because the grip is very low. In FP2 I was in a lot of trouble with the bike and we won’t have time to set-up the bike and this is a big problem for us.”
And he made clear: “If the bike is not working, I mean if I cannot make amazing lap times to catch the front guys, I will not risk to crash and get injured or whatever.
“We will try to give the maximum as always. But we’ll see the feeling tomorrow. If I have a good feeling I will push, if not no. It’s not necessary to push because without an amazing feeling I won’t reach above P14 or P15. Two points don’t make anything.”