Viñales reveals how he rode the rollercoaster of the last two seasons and why he’s planning to hire a sports psychiatrist for 2019
Viñales joined Yamaha in 2017, won three of the first five races, then didn’t win another race until October 2018. In this interview, conducted a few days after that Phillip Island victory, he covers all the bases: riding technique, tyres, bike set-up and the all-important matter of a racer’s psyche.
Unlike most top MotoGP riders you only spent one season with Bridgestone tyres and factory software, so was that an advantage when everything changed in 2016?
I was lucky because I didn’t get any of the strange habits you needed for the Bridgestone tyres and the good electronics. Also, when I went to Suzuki they already had Magneti Marelli software, which didn’t work like the really good electronics that some of the other factories had, so the technical changes from 2015 to 2016 changed nothing for me. I just had to get used to the tyres, but because I hadn’t got any Bridgestone habits I was quite fast as soon as I got on the Michelins and they suited my riding style quite well.
You dominated the early stages of 2017, then Michelin changed the front tyre and it was another 29 races before you won again. How come?
At the beginning of 2017 I could corner with much more speed with the old front carcass. As soon as Michelin changed to the harder carcass the riding style changed – it became 'brake late, stop the bike and go'. Finally, in the last few races, I had the chance to ride like that because we changed bike set-up a lot, so I could make better lap times.
Did you change to a stop-and-go style so that you didn’t lose the front?
No, I wouldn’t actually lose the front, I’d just go wide. The front of the Yamaha is really good, so it’s not easy to lose the front, but you end up going very wide. Instead you need to really stop the bike to make the corner. Until I found this new set-up I couldn’t start using my own riding style. Now it’s really good because I feel confident and I can be fast. Confidence is very important to me because I like to be more aggressive on the bike.
When did you start adapting the set-up towards a stop-and-go technique?
From the start of the 2018 season. I tried to go this way because I felt that this was the way the tyres worked. But the bike wasn’t ready to accept this, so then I started changing my riding style a lot – riding more smoothly – but then I got in a lot of trouble with the front tyre, because I wasn’t getting it hot enough.
So you were being too smooth and not getting heat into the tyres, which would explain why you were often slow in the early laps of races…
Exactly. After Aragón [where Viñales started 14th and finished 10th] I decided: okay now I will use my riding style, completely, and if I’m not fast then I’m not fast, but I will do what I want to do.
So it was the disaster of Aragón that made you realise you had to change?
How much did your set-up change after Aragón?
A lot. It’s difficult to explain, but we put much more weight on the rear; I just moved everything to the rear. Normally I don’t have much trouble with the front tyre because I’m quite good at feeling the limit, so I gave away a bit from the front and tried to concentrate on making the rear work really well. Now we use the rear brake and rear tyre to stop the bike and that has really helped.
I’m trying to find a sports psychiatrist, but it’s not easy, because I need to find a good one that understands me
But moving weight to the rear takes weight away from the front, which can hurt turning…
Yes, but if you can stop the bike you can turn, but if you can’t stop the bike then you can’t turn.
So you had to scrub off more speed to turn the bike?
Yes. Now I can stop the bike much quicker. Before, I was taking much longer to stop the bike, so I was always missing the corner. Now I can be much more precise.
So it’s a big difference?
A very big difference. Also for my head, because now I can ride like I used to ride, so I can feel the bike better and I can feel the limit better, so I know where I can improve. It’s also much better in races, because before we made this big change I felt I had no grip from the tyres, but since I first used this set-up [in Thailand] I’ve always had grip and I always feel good with the tyres.
At Buriram were you also helped by the stiffer rear tyres used at that track?
I hope Michelin will bring stiffer rear tyres for the whole season, because I felt so good with the Buriram tyre and the bike was so good, but I know they won’t. I didn’t believe it, but if I had believed it I could’ve won that race.
With the Bridgestones everyone turned the bike with the front, but with the Michelins, you turn with the rear, so is that another reason you moved weight to the rear?
Exactly. Now I can turn the bike more quickly, so I can pick up the bike earlier, so the traction is better, which means the acceleration is better and the tyre lasts longer. Before we made the change the problem was that it took too long to turn the bike, so I was still on the edge of the tyres when I got on the gas, so I had no traction and the tyre didn’t last. Now I’m already in the traction area of the tyre when I get on the gas.
Did your riding style change much from the Suzuki to the Yamaha?
Now I use completely the same style; since Thailand, completely the same. I’ve gone back to my 2016 style: brake late, completely stop the bike and then go. The set-up we have now accepts this style. Before we used this set-up it was impossible to ride like this because every time I braked hard the bike didn’t stop. Now it does.
When you had those traction problems you told us you were trying to be smoother on the throttle to improve tyre life…
Every time I go out on track I tell myself to be smooth on the gas, because when I try to open the gas quicker the rear suspension starts pumping, so I lose time. You need to be smooth all the time. But that’s one reason why Phillip Island was so good for us, because you didn't have to be quite so smooth, because it was mostly high-gear corners.