2021 was a tumultuous season for Spanish rider Maverick Vinales. After storming to victory at the opening round in Qatar, the then-Yamaha rider faded to the mid-pack. He only stepped back on the rostrum at the Assen TT just before the mid-season holiday, but Top Gun’s performance wasn’t the talk of the town, it was his imminent departure from the Yamaha factory team.
Both parties quickly confirmed the rumors following the race, but Vinales’ aggravation manifested in other ways. After the summer break, Yamaha suspended the number 12 for the Austrian GP after it discovered that Vinales tried to intentionally blow up his engine out of frustration in the Styrian GP one week prior. As a result, the Yamaha and Vinales mutually split with the Spanish rider going to the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini for the remainder of the season.
With a fresh start in 2022, Maverick Vinales looks to make more of an impact on the factory team. To achieve his new goals, Top Gun is drawing from his past and present experiences.
“An Italian team is very different from a Japanese one. To be honest, I've always had a good relationship with Japanese manufacturers because I love the food, the culture, the places, the way they are—calm, systematic. You adapt to that. But other than that, I needed a little more fire around me. A little more support on and off the track. After all, I want to show a lot, and that was difficult there in the end.”
While the team culture may require Vinales to adjust again, his teammate is a known entity. Vinales raced alongside Aleix Espargaro at the Suzuki Ecstar team in 2015-2016. Of course, the then number 25 eventually surpassed Espargaro, gaining a seat at the Yamaha factory team in 2017. With Espargaro turning 33 years old during the 2022 season, Aprilia is setting its future hopes on Vinales. Fortunately, the Spanish rider is looking forward to the challenge.
“Somehow, I would like to experience this process of bringing a plant to the top again, as we did in the past at Suzuki,” added Vinales. “It's a different challenge. But it's one that motivates me. I want to be a champion, but I also want to do something special and not do what the others are doing.”