The back half of the 2021 MotoGP season is chock full of dramatic storylines. Valentino Rossi announced his retirement. Brad Binder won his first race in the wet, in spectacular form. The ongoing drama with Maverick Viñales, though, has been thoroughly over-the-top.
The two parties had already agreed to end their partnership at the end of 2021 back in Assen. During the Styrian GP, though, it seemed like all the hard feelings kicked into overdrive. After the race, Yamaha publicly accused Viñales of attempting to blow his engine.
Viñales stayed quiet for a few days before issuing a public apology, saying that his frustration got the better of him. Still, Yamaha benched him for the Austrian GP—and not much later, went on to say that they would also bench him for the British GP scheduled to take place on August 29.
Meanwhile, directly after the Styrian GP debacle, the Aprilia MotoGP team formally announced that it signed Viñales for the 2022 season. Anyone who’s seen Viñales race knows that he’s talented—but it takes more than just talent to make a successful racer in 2021. What would the future hold?
On August 20, Yamaha and Viñales jointly made the official announcement that they would sever their contract before the end of the 2021 season. Effective immediately, Viñales is a free agent for the remainder of the year. With seven more MotoGP rounds currently on the 2021 schedule, as well as the postponed Argentina race floating around in the background, that’s a highly unusual move to make just past the half-season point.
“In Assen Yamaha and Viñales already announced the mutual decision to cut short their original 2021-2022 program and to finish it at the end of 2021. A commitment was made by both rider and team to continue to the end of the current season, with the team guaranteeing its full support and the rider giving his maximum efforts so that we could finish the project 'in style',” Yamaha Motor Racing managing director Lin Jarvis said in a statement.
“Regretfully at the Styrian GP the race did not go well or end well and consequently after deep consideration by both parties, the mutual decision was reached that it would be better for both parties if we end the partnership earlier. The early separation will release the rider to be free to follow his chosen future direction and will also permit the team to focus its efforts on the remaining races of the 2021 season with a replacement rider – yet to be determined,” he continued.
“I would like to express Yamaha‘s sincere gratitude to Maverick. Yamaha will continue to cherish the good memories and appreciate the work both parties put into the 4.5 years spent together that brought us eight race victories, 24 podiums, and two third places in the 2017 and 2019 overall rider standings. We wish Maverick all the very best in his future endeavors,” he concluded.
In a statement that almost completely mirrored Jarvis’ own words, Viñales said,
“Following our mutual decision in Assen to part ways a year early, it was also decided to commit to completing the current season with maximum effort from both sides. However, at the Styrian GP the race didn‘t turn out as we had hoped, and regrettably it did not end well,” he began.
“After thorough consideration both parties have agreed it would be best to end the partnership with immediate effect. I am deeply grateful to Yamaha for the great opportunity. I am also thankful for the support they gave me during these 4.5 years of racing and will look back with pride on the results we achieved together. I will always have great respect for Yamaha and wish them the very best,” he continued.
Understandably, Yamaha probably doesn’t want to fill a future competitor’s head with any of its plans for the 2022 season. Will Viñales and Aprilia start their collaboration ahead of schedule since he’s now free to do so? This rollercoaster ride is clearly far from over, and that’s about the only thing we feel we can say with certainty.