Aprilia should feel haunted by its Portugal MotoGP waste


“We must be positive. I will not say it’s a disappointment – but I can say it can be maybe a call to attention, to try to improve in some way a little bit more the reliability.”

For all the public perception of Maverick Vinales as temperamental, even capricious, and for all the evidence in the past that does exist to support this, this is a rider who has been uncannily good for much of his recent MotoGP career at, publicly at least, taking huge setbacks on the chin.

At the Portuguese Grand Prix, he was arguably a little too good at it. Vinales barely had a bad word to say after his galling Portimao exit. He swore once – as part of the phrase “I’m f***ing happy!”.

The bike broke down on the final lap and chucked him off – and it was like it didn’t phase him. Even though his post-race comments strongly suggested that what was lost wasn’t just a double podium but a potentially ‘perfect’ 37-point weekend, which felt almost unthinkable given Vinales’ teething troubles with the 2024 Aprilia RS-GP through the season so far.

Team-mate Aleix Espargaro, who said Vinales’ riding at Portimao was “fantastic”, conveyed the appropriate scope of dismay.

“It’s a stupid thing that happened to him. I am very sorry for Maverick, for Romano [Aprilia tech chief] and for everyone at Aprilia, because they were doing an amazing race,” Espargaro said.

THE DOUBLE?

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, Portugal MotoGP

Vinales was clearly soothed by his triumph in the Saturday sprint – which was a gift from Pecco Bagnaia, so effectively means Lady Luck gave him one result and took away another.

But the exchange rate there is seriously skewed. Sprint wins and sprint podiums don’t currently count the same as successes on Sunday – and while Bagnaia’s error turned Vinales’ Saturday haul from nine points to 12, Sunday’s issue took 20 off the board.

Vinales hints it maybe even took 25 off the board – and his argument it’s persuasive.

“It’s been amazing how, when I get the correct balance, I can go very fast with this bike,” he said.

“And despite the problems I had from lap six, from fifth to sixth gear, sometimes it didn’t go in, so I was hitting the RPMs [limit] for so long, I was losing a lot on top speed, I was losing some tenths.

“But despite that I was able to do 1m38s. And that was amazing.”

Once Vinales explained that, his race made a lot more sense in retrospect. Over and over again you could see him make up a lot of ground to race leader Jorge Martin coming through those two downhill right-handers completing the lap, only to lose all the momentum gained there at the start of the next lap.

It wasn’t making a lot of sense at the time. The Ducati has more sheer power than the Aprilia, yes, but the difference shouldn’t have been this potent given the nature of that final corner.

And it wasn’t. Vinales’ lap-by-lap speed trap figures show the situation pretty clearly. In the sprint, Vinales cleared 339km/h in the speed trap every lap. In the main race (where top speeds were understandably slower but not that much slower), he was above 339km/h for only nine laps of 23.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, Portugal MotoGP

And he was in tow virtually all race. By comparison, team-mate Espargaro never dipped below 341.7km/h in the sped trap.

“I was just praying to go in [sixth gear]. I’d press like five times and then go in,” Vinales recalled.

“It’s like this. Sometimes it can happen, and it happened here. I prefer that it happens when you’re in the front.

“Imagine if I was 10th and it happened, I would be very disappointed. But now I just say that I’m really motivated and I see myself winning another race today again.”

Jorge Martin, Maverick Vinales, Portugal MotoGP

Admittedly, catching Martin is one thing and overtaking him is another, but Vinales clearly had a lot in reserve everywhere but the main straight to at least give it a really, really good go.

“All the race I thought I could fight for the win,” he said.

“Just the problem that, every time the gearbox got worse and worse. So every time I was losing more on the main straight. I think I was losing 0.2s on the main straight and then I recovered all the gap again. So… honestly, with all these problems, I was staying in 1m38.8s, 1m38.8s, it was unbelievable. Because it could be 1m38.6s. I’m really happy, I don’t know what to say.”

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, Portugal MotoGP

Vinales was thankfully unhurt in the crash that followed when the bike finally got stuck in sixth gear and then snapped into second gear in the run-off, launching him into the air.

“Just a little [bit of pain], but it’s OK. Three weeks now [until the third round in the US], so I have time to recover. It’s a shame because I would race tomorrow. With this feeling.”

The fact of the matter remains, though, the RS-GP is the one bike you would feel least confident in not doing the same thing again if the race was rerun the following day.

“I really encourage all the Aprilia technicians to improve on that area,” said Vinales of the bike’s reliability.

“I think it’s important if you want to fight each weekend, especially for victories.”

Espargaro reckoned the issue was actually a repeat of the problem that snapped Vinales’ RS-GP’s chain clean off at Jerez last year. Vinales himself wasn’t sure, but said it “felt similar on the bike”.

But in any case, the result is the same: zero points.

The Aprilia RS-GP is a potent, admirable machine, and it isn’t exactly famously unreliable. It usually works. But it seems unreliable enough to stick out among its MotoGP peers, for which technical issue retirements are almost unheard of (unless they are connected to the ride height devices, which do seem to fail a fair amount).

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, Portugal MotoGP

At Portimao, the new RS-GP coaxed out the version of Vinales that Aprilia had been dreaming of when it signed him, the version it (and any other manufacturer in MotoGP) would re-sign in a heartbeat.

That version doesn’t show up every weekend – doesn’t show up often enough, really.

But that’s for Vinales himself to figure out. At Portimao – where, it should be noted again, he had been suffering with a nasty-sounding, energy-sapping bout of gastroenteritis – he brought his absolute A-game.

The least the bike could do for him is get him to the flag.





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