Maverick Viñales has labelled 2016 “a great season” after he placed fourth in the final MotoGP world championship standings, scored 105 points more than his rookie campaign, and experienced two years during which he has grown “a lot” as a rider.
After falling just short of an outright podium challenge in the season finale at Valencia, the 21-year old reflected on that first half of 2015, when finishes outside the top ten were a fairly regular occurrence.
Difficult to accept at the time, Viñales feels the vast improvements made by both himself and Suzuki over the offseason and throughout 2016 have been particularly pleasing. “We did really well,” he smiled soon after his final race in Suzuki colours.
“I think we were trying to fight for the podium, we were fighting with the big guys, so we did a good job today,” said Viñales, who faded in the closing laps due to his soft rear tyre suffering from serious wear.
“Anyway, many races where we could be in the front, it was raining. So the championship went really well. I think 202 point are quite a lot. They did a good job, I'm quite happy about that.
“Overall, think I have grown up a lot as a rider. And also, the first year was really difficult, really tough and hard for me. Being eleventh, twelfth, I always think this is not my place.
“But this year, we could demonstrate that we improve the level a lot, I improve a lot as a rider. Not only on the bike, but also in the box, working harder. And I can say that we did a great season. This season, being fourth in the championship, we did really well.”
Asked if he felt he had made a misstep by leaving Suzuki for Yamaha, Viñales was unequivocal: “Today I was ten seconds behind [race winner Jorge Lorenzo], so I don't think I made the wrong decision!
“But no, I was happy enough about my decision. You know, when I take a decision, I don't doubt. I just go out and follow 100% that decision. And I think for sure Suzuki is going to be on the same level as the others.”
Fast throughout the weekend, Viñales was particularly strong through free practice and morning warm-up. His pace led him to believe a podium challenge was possible.
He was in the fight with Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone for third too, until four laps from the end, when his pace notably dropped due to his rear tyre fading.
“It was a hard race. I was thinking that I would do better in the race. It was so hard at the end to keep doing 1'31s. I was just thinking, I will just let the bike go in the box, get some points, and finally finish the race.
“I was really on the limit, I nearly crashed two or times and then I said, OK, today is not possible. Anyway, I'm very happy, it was a hard race, we could finish fighting in the front, we did our best. Nothing more to say. Really happy to finish.
“For sure I'm happy. I was strong until nearly there. We never did more than 15 laps on the soft tire, then it drops a lot. After lap 22, it start to drop a lot. I pushed and pushed, I made two or three mistakes that I nearly crashed, and then it's better that I bring the fifth place to the box than bring only zero points.
“Honestly, the race was difficult, because in the first part of the race I felt really strong, I was just riding, keeping the tires good, but then in one moment they dropped a lot, which made me run a lot to catch everyone.
“Anyway, I need to say thank you to the team, because they did an incredible job this season. I'm so proud of them. It's always a strange feeling when you need to leave one team.”