Four tests, four headline times. Courtesy of a stunning winter, Maverick Vi?ales goes into the opening weekend of the 2017 MotoGP season as the favourite to win the first race of his Yamaha career, and is surely destined to, at the very least, challenge for the world title, the highest honour of them all.

If his career path has taught us anything, it is of his inherent ability to adapt and learn at a thrilling pace. After all, this is a rider that now only won his fourth ever grand prix, but was victorious in just his second Moto2 race. Then, of course, there were those testing performances as soon as he jumped on the Yamaha M1 at Valencia.

Bearing this possible rise to greatness in mind, Crash.net spoke to five men that have worked with Vi?ales since his grand prix debut in 2011. We asked each of them one simple question: Does Maverick have what it takes to challenge for the MotoGP title this year?

Unsurprisingly, the answer on each occasion was quite an emphatic 'yes'.

Ricard Jov?, commentator and analyst for Movistar TVJov? first encountered Vi?ales as a kid racing minimotos on local Catalan tracks. He was instrumental in bringing him into the Bluesens Aprilia fold for Vi?ales grand prix debut in 125s and was his team manager in 2011 and '12.

"I'm sure [he will]. He's strong. For example Lorenzo is also strong, even if he has problems sometimes. Maverick however, doesn't care about these things... A lot will depend on whether he has problems with Rossi, but I don't think that they will have a lot because they will be working on the same way so they will have a normal, respectful relationship.

"So I'm sure he wants to win. But the problem is not this. The problem is that there is also Marquez, Lorenzo... We will see. Everything can change because it looks like at the beginning of the [2016] Yamaha was the best package and now it changed to Honda. You never know."

Pablo Nieto, team boss of the Sky VR46 Moto3 teamIn 2013, Nieto signed Vi?ales to compete in the Moto3 championship for the Laglisse KTM squad. While there was undoubtedly some luck involved, Vi?ales went on to clinch the title at the final race by just twelve points.

"Yes, I think so. Now he has a lot of experience. Suzuki was a really good school for him. He improved a lot at Suzuki. We've seen him win one race on a really, really young bike. That was so important. Now he's in the best team for me, with the best team-mate. It's more motivation.

"He's young and only a one-time world champion. He wants to win more than the others, for sure. I think all the riders have to care about this [Maverick's threat] because it's going to be hard to beat him! He's ready to fight for the championship. In the end you never know. The bike is more similar to the style of Suzuki. His riding style is more or less similar. This is one more point for Maverick."

Sito Pons, team owner for the Pons Moto2 squadAlways one that has an astute eye for young talent, Pons partnered Vi?ales with Luis Salom in his Moto2 squad in 2014. It was a breathtaking campaign, one that certified Maverick's enormous talent and ability to piece it all together. He finished third in the championship, thanks to four wins and five further podiums.

"We don't have any doubts about his talent. I think he can challenge [for the title]. He has a very good team. Obviously it will be difficult to race against Valentino in the same team. [In the past] it's different. He raced against him but not in the same box. Valentino has some kind of special atmosphere behind him. Maverick has to come away from this, to try and concentrate on himself, only on his job, rather than looking to the other side.

"This is the only difficulty he can feel because he's always been used to being the number one rider. He will push until he becomes the number one. He also did the same with Espargaro [in 2015]. For sure, inside of himself, he will not even sleep until he goes all the time in front of Valentino. At the end of the day, Valentino is close to retirement and I think he will be a good replacement for Yamaha."

Davide Brivio, team manager for Suzuki's MotoGP outfitWith Vi?ales impressing in Moto2 throughout 2014, Brivio felt he was ideal to compliment Aleix Espargaro's experience in Suzuki's MotoGP comeback. It was an inspired move. After a solid debut season, Vi?ales finished fourth in the championship in 2016, racking up a dry weather win in the process.

"[In 2016] Suzuki recover a lot, so we can defend, we can attack at the braking and this made a big difference. But also this year another big difference I think has been made by Maverick to be honest because we thought that he was a great talent, so he demonstrated this. He grew up a lot on riding and experience, I think so, yes.

"[Can he fight for the title?] For sure. For the next ten years I think he will be fighting for the championship. I hope we will be in the middle. Of course our target is to be in the middle and give him some trouble, let's say. Don't make his life easy, let's say also from our point of view. But for sure I think Maverick and Marquez, they are both very young and they are both very strong. I think they should be a regular contender for many, many years."

Massimo Meregalli team manager for Movistar YamahaWalking into a garage and occupying a seat previously filled by a five-time world champion can't have been easy. But Vi?ales sparkled on his Yamaha debut. So much so, team boss Meregalli made this assessment as early as January, at the Movistar Yamaha team launch in Madrid.

"My judgement now is based on two tests [one in Valencia, the other at a private shakedown in Sepang]. I'll tell you now that he is ready. It is not enough to judge a rider after two tests but if I have to I'd say yes. For me, what impressed me most was his calm. He is very fast. He could get the feeling on a completely different bike within half a day.

"Also the way that he is used to answer to the crew chief, he was really sure. [He could say] 'That is better, that is worse.' And that really impressed me. The direction was practically the same as Vale. For me he could be hiding the pressure because now we haven't seen it, we haven't felt it. But on the first day he jumped on the bike Jorge [at Valencia] won the race the day before. He is ready. He's clever in finding the things that he likes. I'm really optimistic and I'm very curious to see him with all the others."

And Vi?ales' assessment of a potential title challenge...

"I don't know, normally I adapt to the bike really fast. In Sepang [at the private test in November] I was already feeling 'Wow, it's my bike, I can do what I want!' Then another rider makes two or three tenths and to go there you have to improve.

"There are many riders who can be the favourite for the championship. At least the ones from Ducati, from Yamaha, from Honda can be the champions. There are many riders who are strong, even the rookies like Folger and Zarco are quite strong also. So they can make a surprise.

"I think this year we need to have the experience to not get nervous, because last year I got nervous sometimes, because I was feeling I was at 100% of the bike and still four tenths back. I think this year I can be always there, that's important and makes me really calm."

 

Comments

Loading Comments...