When his Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen wreaked havoc on the opening MotoGP race in Mugello, Italy last Sunday, he did the “screwdriver-doorknob-watch,” which, despite its name, doesn’t involve risking your life or that of your motorcycle.
Rising star Maverick Vinales soon stole Verstappen’s thunder, though, and captured his first victory in the paddock. His goal, now that he’s won for the first time, is to win more.
Now just 22 years old, the Spanish joker has been the sole reason to watch the much maligned MotoGP, a sport that, in his eyes, is “just a normal sport.” Vinales will turn 23 in December, which may seem old to a team sport like American football, but youth in MotoGP is, at best, a bonus. An incisive, brainy Spaniard that can carry a team-car to victory could create another spark of excitement to the series.
What makes Vinales so young is that his name is not a result of age, but skill. Through the first 12 Grand Prix races of the year, Vinales was the only rider to hit the podium, which doesn’t come as easy as it sounds. The young star started the year by beating the bigger, better racers. He never, after a slow start to the year, was expected to be a championship contender.
But then the wheels fell off. He went from the top of the standings to last place, one place behind local rival and top competitor Valentino Rossi, who at that point had not won a race since last May. Rossi’s fourth-place finish in Mugello, after a mistake in qualifying, sent Vinales crashing back down to a surprisingly swift 23rd-place finish.
No one in MotoGP, for so long considered a coronation of the “aces” that defeated their rivals — two or three, with names as familiar as Brad Keselowski and Alex Wolff — gets to this point. The season is longer, and many of the riders have better machines at their disposal. Sunday, though, he reached the top.
With the win, Vinales will no longer have to answer questions about a controversial betting scandal that has raised questions about his age. But with his poor performance in the last races of the season, doubts have been raised about his motivation and whether or not he will race the long season next year as hard as his team expects him to.
“After that long break, I’ve been training for a long time for the last two races, not to think about a win, but just to arrive to the track with a target and I feel that I have that in front of me,” he said.
Though the championship is officially over, Vinales’ win could have some long-term consequences for the series. He now joins Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo as winners for the season, which will appeal to its fan base.
Vinales will be a star on the top tier of racing soon. Thanks to Rossi, the winner of the last five titles, he joins a stable of racers that includes the championship’s other winners Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso.
Now it’s just a matter of time before this season’s winner will become the youngest-ever three-time MotoGP champion, as Rossi did in 2015 and again in 2016.
Maverick Vinales, now the second-youngest winner in history, has the formula to join that elite circle. Will he be riding on a nail biting quest for another win in the next few seasons, while defending champion Rossi and, possibly, star rider Lorenzo continue to glide?