On the Monday after the Austin round of MotoGP, the Suzuki team stayed on to do an extra private test, which we attended. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had hoped to start relatively early, but heavy overnight rain left the track both wet and dirty, taking some time to dry out.
When they did start, the times were poor – around 2’08, rather than the 2’05s both riders had been posting in the race. But conditions improved as the day went on, and the session turned into a very productive test for both riders.
After two races on back-to-back weekends, there was little time to be testing new parts. Both men had some new electronics to try, aimed at helping the seamless gearbox be a little smoother. They also both tried the 2016 chassis again, after having spent the first three races on the 2015.
Aleix Espargaro was not entirely convinced, saying the frame was stiffer, but it was also less agile. That meant balancing braking stability against cornering ability. For Espargaro, the time lost in the corners would not be made up on the brakes, certainly not in qualifying.
Maverick Viñales was a good deal more positive, saying the 2016 chassis was a big improvement for him over the chassis from last year. After the test, he regretted not using it in the race.
“We’ve been comparing the old chassis with the new one and we are quite surprised because here looks like the new one was a bit better. So I want to kill myself!” Viñales joked. The bike stops better, and he can turn the bike better while on the brakes, he said.
Viñales was so convinced of the 2016 chassis that he said he will be trying it at the next race at Jerez, which features a number of hard braking zones entering corners. But the 2015 chassis was still better in agility, and he felt he could switch between chassis at different tracks.
At stop-and-go tracks like Le Mans and Motegi, the 2016 chassis may be the better option, while at more flowing tracks such as Mugello, Assen, the Sachsenring, he could use the 2015 frame to take advantage of the faster changes of direction.
There was still work to be done, both riders said. The Suzuki GSX-RR still lacked rear grip, they both told us, which was a big factor in their lack of acceleration.
Viñales pinpointed stability under braking as the bike’s biggest weakness still. “I feel so strong in fast corners like Sector 1, but then when it is hard braking like Sectors 3 or 4 I have problems,” he said. It had been a focus point for the test, and both Espargaro and Viñales said they felt they had made progress in that area.
The test was also a chance to get more data on the Michelin tires. Espargaro said he was able to use the medium front for the first time, and get some feedback from it. When he had used it during the race weekend, he had always ended up crashing, so understanding how that front tire worked was a big step forward.
Viñales Splits with Manager, May Not Secure Yamaha Contract
After the test, news emerged which could affect the future of Maverick Viñales. The Spanish youngster had split with his former manager Aki Ajo, and switched to Paco Sanchez, who used to handle Pol Espargaro.
It could be a relatively expensive affair: sources suggest that Viñales will have to pay a penalty of 25% of his agent’s fee to Ajo for breaking the contract.
The news that Viñales was splitting from his manager saw a line of rider managers hovering around the Suzuki garage.
In the end, Viñales elected to have Sanchez handle the legal side of his contracts, while keeping the contract negotiations in his own hands. Given the pressure of racing in MotoGP, that may not be the best possible solution.
Viñales’ new manager may not be able to get him much in the way of a new ride, however. Though reports on Motorsport.com suggest that Viñales currently only has an offer on the table from Suzuki, he may not have much choice in the matter.
According to Speedweek – a German-language website with close ties to Aki Ajo – the contract Viñales has with Suzuki has a stipulation that Suzuki can extend the contract for another year if Viñales gets on the podium in 2016. Given Viñales’ strong form so far this year, that seems increasingly likely.
That would leave Yamaha with a problem. The Movistar Yamaha team are pushing to sign Viñales to replace the departing Jorge Lorenzo, but if Viñales scores a podium, they would not have the option of the Spaniard.
Suggestions that Viñales would deliberately miss out on a podium to secure a Yamaha ride are frankly laughable, wildly underestimating the ambition and hunger for success that all young riders have.
If Yamaha cannot secure the services of Viñales, then they may offer another rider a one-year contract, as a stop-gap for when Viñales does become available.
Valentino Rossi suggested that either Andrea Iannone or Dani Pedrosa could take the place of Lorenzo, though how willing Yamaha would be to allow Rossi to choose Lorenzo’s successor remains to be seen.
Yamaha are reportedly unwilling to place Alex Rins directly into the factory team, instead wanting him to serve time in the Tech 3 satellite squad. Rins is unwilling to sign for a non-factory team, and consequently it looks like he is headed to the Repsol Honda team instead.
At the moment, the only certain move is that Lorenzo will be signing for Ducati, with an announcement expected in the run up to Jerez. That announcement will trigger a further round of intense speculation and horse trading between the rest of the riders on the grid.
Photo: © 2016 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.