Let’s suppose you’re at a track—and I want you to close your eyes once in a while as you’re reading this, so you can get a full picture in your head. You have your leathers on, you’re in the right mental space, and you’re ready to go out and do great things on your bike. You can smell new tires, race fuel, and assorted garage smells as everyone puts their heads down and makes their last-minute preparations to get it right.
Then you ride out onto track, on a machine you know well. You’re starting to get into a groove when you first notice that there’s a brake issue—around lap three or four. You get yourself off the racing line, trying to get out of everyone’s way, as you raise your hand. It’s clear you’re having an issue, but no one on the outside can see what it is. Is it your engine? Maybe your clutch? All that’s clear to everyone who isn’t you is that something is not right.
You manage to push through and keep going until lap 17—when suddenly, the brakes let go in a spectacular fashion. Suddenly, your bike is careening wildly toward the air fence, at speeds over 215 kilometers per hour—or around 134 miles per hour. You know you can’t stop, or even slow down at all. You make a split-second decision to trust that your race suit will save you. Then, you throw yourself off the bike at a speed that would be fine on your bike and in control, but is horrific because you have neither control nor a working bike underneath you.
You slide... and slide. Amazingly, the combination of events and all that adrenaline coursing through you makes it a simple matter to jump up immediately and shake your head in disgust when you’re done sliding. You can’t believe this is how your race ended, even though you’re glad you came out of it with only minor soreness.
Meanwhile, the bike you bailed out on hit the air fence at close to 200kph, then burst almost immediately into flames. Later, you’ll observe both how lucky you were to escape mostly unscathed—and luckier still that there were no riders in front of you to get hit by your out-of-control bike. The race was, of course, red-flagged immediately after this incident, and later restarted.
What do you do when you have zero brakes at a speed like that? There’s probably not much choice other than doing what MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales did at the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix, honestly. Debates and questions have arisen off-track since the incident, including fellow racer Alex Rins asking why Viñales didn’t go into the pits sooner when he first realized there was a problem. There’s also a question of whether there’s a broader problem at work here, since fellow Yamaha man Fabio Quartararo had his own set of braking issues at the last race—also in Austria.
In that moment, though—and as dramatic an exit as it was—could Viñales have realistically made any other call? Unlikely.