The MotoGP season is only two races old but Maverick Viñales has made his intentions clear – he’s racing for the World Championship.
The 22-year-old Spaniard, who joined Yamaha last year, has come out on top in both Qatar and Argentina. But it’s no surprise given he was always destined for success after winning the Moto3 title in 2013.
Following his extraordinary start to the season, the Monster Energy athlete spoke about his childhood memories and his determination to succeed in professional motorcycling.
This year must feel a bit different. The hype around you at Yamaha is a new set of circumstances…
The first two years in Suzuki were really difficult, not for my riding style but the machine was not at the top level of the ‘important riders’ but this pre-season has been really good and I’m so happy.
The team, the bike, how I worked in each track: all was excellent. I improve day-by-day and we are happy with the lap-times but we know we have to be ready for other conditions.
At the moment I don’t feel too much pressure; I have just been able to enjoy the bike. Normally I try to take everything in a positive way and the fact that so many are saying I can be a favourite for the title motivates me so much.
I think it is important that people look at you and think ‘he can win’. It means you are doing a good job.
You are used to media attention but the brightness of the spotlight with social media and other demands must have increased quite a lot?
It is a different story now and with social media, people can talk good or bad [about you]. You have to try and take all the information and everything that comes at you in a good way.
When you see critical comments then you have to take what you can from them. But at the moment it is nice to open Twitter and Instagram and see all of this news, and I like it. I like being at the front [of MotoGP] and I like being competitive.
As a boy were you looking to escape and play some sports?
Always. Always out of the house. It is not like now where you have the feeling the kids don’t go out much. I was lucky because as a kid it was like the ‘old times’: we were always on the street and not much was happening.
At 09:00, we’d be out on the bicycles, heading to the mountain, playing, making jumps and then come back to eat before going out to play football. I was lucky I could live that life because now it is totally different; the kids stay at home with the PlayStation.
They lose a lot of ‘good feeling’; when you are with your team-mates at football or your best friends on bicycles.
Was there someone important pushing you to do sport? To ride a motorbike? To race?
No, there was nobody pushing me to get on a motorbike. At first I played football with my position as a striker. They [friends, family] were pushing me to play football because we were good and the level of our team was pretty high.
But when you love bikes it is impossible to do anything else and I was riding and riding all the time until one day I said: “I want to try a race.”
Can you remember a time when racing started to change for you? Going from fun to a vocation, leaving home and it all starting to get serious?
Now. Now it is getting good. No, seriously, in 2011 when I started in the world championship it was still a bit like a game for me. It was racing and a bit of training and just loving everything about it.
When I won my first Grand Prix, which was just the fourth race, suddenly it became more of a job. I had the chance to win more and I had to take it seriously. After that I changed my mindset and looked at the training and many other things.
Did I lose the fun? It changed. It is not like when you go and do motocross where you can just ride and enjoy yourself and that’s it.
You have pressure, people that push you, a team relying on you, money behind you and many things that can make it difficult to enjoy.
But like I’ve said in many interviews I don’t remember a time when I have enjoyed a pre-season as much as I have done this year.
Do you feel lucky to be where you are now or it is something you worked for?
Let’s say ‘worked for’. Especially last year: it was quite difficult and I had to demonstrate many things to different people. That I could be strong…especially for Yamaha.
It wasn’t easy and I worked a lot at home and on the track. You need to have luck in particular during the season and in many situations you have to keep your concentration and stay focused on the job.
I think it is easy to lose your way but at the moment I think I have my feet on the ground and I haven’t gotten lost. Away from the track my life is about motocross, cycling and the gym.
What is the best moment of a race for you?
The start is incredible. It is really nice. You feel something strange in the stomach and every start is like my first one. It is such a good feeling. Then, I think it is crossing the line and just seeing everyone going crazy when you win. It is emotional.
Did you see the recent photo of you on social media as a young kid on the podium ahead of Marc Marquez?
Yeah. Nice no? It is strange when you have your opponent now at your side [at that age]. Now fifteen years afterwards you still have the same people around.
Are you ready to be even more famous?
Normally I don’t care so much: to be famous or not famous, to have followers or not have followers. I try to have a good image. I want to be nice and friendly to sponsors and everybody.
But what I care about is winning. I want to be the best and the best I can be.