Like fellow Yamaha title contenders Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales seemed to have dodged a bullet when the FIM Stewards only docked constructors’ and teams’ points for the factory’s breach of the engine homologation rules.
But Vinales’ relief didn’t last long.
The Spaniard, currently third in the standings and 19 points from Suzuki’s Joan Mir, had signalled on Thursday at Valencia that he was now “running out of engines” with three rounds still to go.
On Friday afternoon Vinales officially opened a sixth engine for the season, meaning he will be penalised with a pit lane start in Sunday’s Valencia MotoGP.
“You can imagine the feeling I have,” Vinales said on Friday evening. “Every year we are throwing away the opportunity to win the title by mistakes.
“So for sure my feeling is very bad, but I have a perfect situation at home, I have a perfect life, I don’t want to be angry anymore. I want to be happy.
“Even if I don’t have the chance this year, I will have the chance next one or the next one. Still I have two more years with Yamaha and we can do something great.
“About the race, I don’t know. I have a very open mind. I can do a very good result, maybe I have a special day, my feeling is amazing, I can ride faster than anyone. We will see. I don’t put any limit on myself.
“We will see if we can take out something very positive, our contenders can make mistakes, it can rain and we can have a red flag and then I can start on the grid in the position I finish. So I don’t want to lose the motivation.
“We are upset for sure, because we don’t ride with the same conditions as the others. But this is our problem, so we will try to face it good and finally as a team we will try to work in the best way.
“The only problem I see is that it’s difficult to overtake with our bike. This is the only point. Maybe I will need to risk really much to overtake.”
As if the pit lane start wasn’t bad news enough, one of his Monster Yamaha team members is also thought to have tested positive for Covid on Friday, meaning an anxious wait for Vinales’ own PCR result.
“I really don’t know [the situation]. You can see my face, I don’t take off the mask!” Vinales said. “I don’t want to get positive, first of all because I have important people at home.
“I don’t want to pass the Covid to my people, or the team or the other riders. So for sure I will try to take the maximum prevention for the Covid. I made a PCR this morning, after FP1, so we will see.
“What more can happen in one weekend? I don’t know!”
Vinales’ engine use prior to start of Valencia weekend.
Returning to the engine issue, Vinales said he was sunk when Yamaha only discovered how to control the valve problem after he had lost one engine and opened two others at Jerez 1.
That meant he has used engines 4 and 5 for every session since, with the exception of practice in Austria.
“The problem is that at Jerez they understand the problem after we closed the third engine,” Vinales said. “Because if not still I had four engines [after losing one].
“But from Aragon I’m running out of engines, so we were managing the best we can and in the second race I only had one engine with a lot of milage. So we just did little laps [in practice].
“Still yesterday we were discussing whether to risk continuing with the number 5 engine, doing just a few laps in practice and taking a risk for the races and hoping that it won’t stop the bike.
“But for me it’s too risky, we are too far [behind]. If you were first with 20 points you can do, but we don’t have the setting, the bike is not working and then we have to face it with old engines. So it was no meaning.
“We needed to put a new one. It’s true that I will start from pit lane and that’s it.
“I mean the option of the title is for sure much more difficult, but everything can still happen.
“Our problem is we are not on the level. I don’t know why, after Misano we lost everything. We don’t find grip, it’s very difficult to ride the bike.”
The big question is now whether Quartararo (14 points from Mir) and/or Morbidelli (25-points behind) will also need an extra engine in the remaining rounds.
Both Petronas riders said they have no knowledge of their engine situation, but Quartararo is best placed having not lost any powerplants so far this season.
Vinales was 10th in the wet opening practice at Valencia, then 11th on slicks in the damp FP2 session. Mir was 10th overall, with Quartararo 9th and Morbidelli 3rd.
The weather is expected to improve as the weekend goes on.