An exclusive interview with Movistar Yamaha's Wilco Zeelenberg.

The Dutchman, a former 250GP winner and title-winning WSS team manager for Cal Crutchlow, worked with triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo from 2010-2016.

Zeelenberg is now Rider Performance Analyst for the team's new-signing Maverick Vinales, who has won three races so far this season...
Wilco, you worked with Jorge Lorenzo for many years. What's Maverick like to work with, as a person?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
Maverick is a very professional and motivated guy. If I have to compare him on motivation, he is one of the guys who has the highest focus - same as Jorge basically - because when the visor is closed he can concentrate very well.

Maverick has a mission: He wants to be world champion. This is very clear and for me there is no doubt he will become world champion. It's just when. That's the question. But he will be a key person for the coming years in MotoGP.

His attitude is very mature. We ask him, 'be here at this time' and he is. He listens very well and is very eager to learn, to step up. Because we have a lot of experience with this bike. Apart from some examples this year - in hot, low-grip conditions - we have been able to improve the bike step-by-step in practice which gives him confidence.

To be world champion you cannot struggle for too many weekends with a bike that is not able to win.
Is there a particular area where Maverick is really strong, when riding the bike?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
If I compare him with Jorge, Jorge is very smooth, calm and gentle on the front, basically. And Maverick is more aggressive for the front tyre, but especially for the Michelin, he makes it work a little bit better. He stops the bike very well and because of that he is able to brake a bit later and deeper into the corners. And he is using his body position more to the front of the bike than Jorge.

Jorge, as soon as he braked, would go back [on the bike] to make this high corner-speed. Maverick wants to make the bike turn faster and being more at the front he turns better and exits earlier. And he controls the rear brake very well, both left and right corners.

So it makes our base set-up a bit different to Jorge. With Jorge we struggled sometimes to make the bike correct on stopping because we could not do the same things with the set-up that we can do now with Maverick. Because Jorge didn't brake so hard and late. So spring-wise and set-up wise we can do different things with Maverick, which is very interesting.

Many times we struggled with Jorge in braking, but with Maverick the bike is braking well and late. This is interesting for us to see and solves a lot of small issues that we had with Jorge in the last couple of years. It is based on his riding style.
Is Maverick's style similar to Rossi?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
No, he also rides different to Vale. He is strong, so he uses a lot of body force to change the bike direction. But in a different way to Vale. Vale is tall and thin. So the body sizes are different. They complain about different things about the bike, because of the riding style basically.

Maverick is strong and very fit. Even in the last five laps he always has energy. I see that also during the whole weekend in general, he always wakes up early. He just has a lot of energy. Not only because of training, but also maybe his DNA.
This season seems even more unpredictable than last season...

Wilco Zeelenberg:
It is very unpredictable. Dovi winning two races in a row is kind of strange because he's been ten years in this championship and to beat Marc, Vale, Jorge and Maverick is not easy. But he did it twice in a row and did it easily in Barcelona. So let's see how it develops.

If we struggle too much we will need to fight back and that's what we are trying to do [with the new Yamaha chassis]. You need to react to the problems you have. In the winter you can prepare your bike but only on a couple of tracks, when you realise you have a problem it's always on a track where you couldn't test.

So you have to react, but not overreact because you don't want to lose your strong points. We've won three races already. This is not bad. Anyway, it's a weird championship!
What would you say are the strong points of the Yamaha this year?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
What we've tried to improve compared with last year is the rear grip at the end of the race. It is better but there needs to be grip from the track, if you know what I mean? Also Michelin need to bring tyres with the right 'window', because they are very narrow in terms of temperature. If it's a little bit too hot or a little bit too cold...
Does the narrow window mean there are sometimes 'gaps' between the compound choices?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
Not really. The hard tyres are hard, but they just begin to spin early and they never stop spinning. So they last, but... no grip.
How can the riders adapt to that?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
They try, but as Maverick said in Barcelona, 'During the race I tried everything: Not leaning. Picking up early. Not picking up,' to try to improve the lap time. But if as soon as you touch the throttle the rear starts to spin, it's difficult to avoid. This is the main issue I would say.
Speaking of adapting, how do you think Jorge is getting on at Ducati?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
It was not that easy for him. His high skill is corner speed, basically, braking early... The Ducati doesn't turn so well, but they have other strong points, otherwise you don't win two races in a row. I think Ducati needs to come a little bit closer to Jorge and Jorge needs to come a little bit closer to Ducati. He needs to learn how to brake harder and deeper and have a little less corner speed. But this is also one of his high skills and no-one is able to do what he can, if everything is there.
Can you see Jorge and the Ducati starting to change?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
Yeah, especially electronic-wise they are improving. Because there is less movement. But also Jorge doesn't make the bike move, that's another of his strengths; he is so smooth with the throttle. But it's not easy to predict, especially with the tyres. He went for the hard tyre in Barcelona and normally he never does that and finally it worked quite well. Even though Dovi won with the medium, Jorge came back and was just a little too late otherwise he would have been on the podium again.
Lastly, on tyres, Marquez has said he thinks the asymmetric front causes problems for him under braking?

Wilco Zeelenberg:
It's possible. We had the same with the Bridgestone. As soon as you go onto [the joint between] the two different compounds, the tyre needs to 'decide' which compound to use. If you cross over from one compound to another without braking, it's not a big issue. But if you brake as you turn, you have to go over the joint between the different compounds at some point. The joint is not directly in the middle of the tyre, it is slightly to the left or right. They are trying to improve this transition.
Thanks Wilco.

Wilco Zeelenberg:
No problem.

By Peter McLaren

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