Does Vinales’ heroic first Aprilia win change anything for 2025?

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For the longest time, Aprilia racer Maverick Vinales has looked to be just on the verge of a breakthrough with the Italian factory as he targeted the goal of becoming the first rider to win a MotoGP race with three different factories – something that he finally ticked off in Saturday’s sprint race at the at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

But, coming two and a half years and 50 Grand Prix weekends since he joined Aprilia halfway through the 2021 season, it’s arguably taken far longer than anticipated for him to win on the RS-GP, even as team-mate Aleix Espargaro has repeatedly stood on the top step of the podium since Vinales’ arrival.

Which begs the question: what changed at Portimao – and, perhaps, even more importantly does it herald the start of a new era?


Aprilia riders in Portimao sprint

1. Maverick Vinales

8. Aleix Espargaro, +6.161s

10. Raul Fernandez, +8.484s

12. Miguel Oliveira, +10.519s


Of course, despite the excitement of his first Aprilia win (albeit in a sprint and not a Sunday race), it’s not like there’s been a shortage of false dawns in Vinales’ career, both at Aprilia and elsewhere, a fact that perhaps means that his Portimao triumph should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, MotoGP

Consistently among the very fastest in testing in his Yamaha days, he dominated his first pre-season in Iwata blue and went on to win three of his first five races – before the wheels fell off somewhat and he ended up struggling to win consistently for the next three years before a spectacular and public split with Yamaha in the middle of 2021.

In the right place at the right time following that split for Aprilia to step in and offer him a deal to replace recently-promoted test rider Lorenzo Savadori following Andrea Iannone’s doping ban, he was brought in not as a mere complementary piece to Espargaro but as a superstar signing with an eye to becoming Aprilia’s clear number one racer going forward.

But that hasn’t really played out. It’s been an up-and-down journey despite Vinales still being able to deliver purple patches of form and spectacular laptimes on occasion, normally in testing, where he very much retains his unofficial ‘crown’.

In 2024, it was Espargaro who had begun the season as Aprilia’s standout once more, and it’s hard to read too much into a single Vinales victory as a sign of a permanent shift.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, MotoGP

Especially as it very much looks like what has been different at Portimao is nothing more than the Spaniard’s biggest weakness in the past: confidence.

But could the win be a permanent boost in that regard? Vinales did admit at Portimao that he’d thought for “a long time” that he should be winning on the RS-GP.

“But finally I’ve closed this circle, and it’s a big relief to finally do it. I’m really happy to show the confidence and the big potential.”

Difference-making

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, MotoGP

While qualifying had offered no direct laptime comparison – because Vinales was on track only in Q2 while all of his Aprilia peers had been knocked out in Q1 – it had already been clear through practice that he was carrying a significant laptime advantage at Portimao.

On average across the three practice sessions Vinales headed the next-fastest Aprilia by 0.449s.

“He’s just releasing the front brake earlier than me,” said Espargaro, lauding his team-mate’s “fantastic” performance.

“What I did in Qatar. Releasing the front brake, and then helping the bike accelerate better.

“[Whereas] I’m not flowing, I’m not riding good – and I always feel in every session that I arrive late [to the pace].”

For Trackhouse’s Raul Fernandez, who finished 10th, the difference to Vinales was in “how he manages the rear tyre” coming out of corners.

“He can manage really well. In my case, especially when I was behind Fabio [Quartararo] – I think it wasn’t a disaster race, I was with Aleix and Fabio – it was quite difficult to be closing to him, especially when I was on the gas.

“In his case, I don’t know why, he can be [running] very close to the Ducatis and the traction that he has is quite good. We have to understand – because if Maverick does [it], I think we can do [it, too].”

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, MotoGP

And Fernandez’s team-mate Miguel Oliveira, who like Vinales hadn’t fully gelled with the 2024 RS-GP in the pre-season, reckoned the Spaniard has simply “clicked with the bike, and there’s no coming back”.

“He’s effortlessly riding quite good,” said Oliveira. “Doing really nice pick-ups, seems not to have so much trouble going in fast into the corners.

“I think he’s found the sweet spot for him and it’s working.

“We are not there yet. I think we’re 95 percent there, but the five percent now in MotoGP is, pfff, it’s a huge difference.

“This is the category. One day you can be deep in the mud and the other day you can be completely refreshed.”

The Race says

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, MotoGP

Even though there was a dash of good fortune (in the form of Pecco Bagnaia’s error), Aprilia bosses will feel nothing but gratitude and respect for Vinales’ performance – and weekend as a whole, given he has been struggling with a suspected stomach flu and its “disgusting” (his word!) consequences.

Though his already-good performance at Portimao last year suggested something like this was possible, given his initial mismatch with the RS-GP ’24 it has been a real statement to outperform the rest of the Aprilia camp like this.

But that’s what he was signed for. And while a ride like this clearly buys Vinales time – and reminds anyone who’s forgotten just how good he is at his peak – it also only means so much.

In his first media appearance this weekend, Vinales admitted – perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not – that he couldn’t be sure he’d be on the grid for when MotoGP’s new rules roll around in 2027.

He isn’t in last-chance saloon yet. The best version of Maverick Vinales is so good that, even if he were to be dropped by Aprilia at the end of 2024, it is unthinkable that there won’t be a rival team manager who would take a punt.

But as for Aprilia itself, while it was punching above its weight in signing Vinales back in 2021 (even considering his particular Yamaha baggage), that would clearly not be the case in retaining him for 2025.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia, MotoGP

And it’s seen purple patches from its mercurial star already. What it needs now is a good reason to believe that Vinales can be close to the best version of himself for a stretch of weekends, both at tracks he likes and at tracks he doesn’t fancy so much.

Even when his form dips, you can always tell there’s a phenomenally gifted rider in there. Just ‘gifted’, though, doesn’t cut it for a MotoGP factory that has grand aspirations – not when that gift needs coaxing out again and again.

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