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.
Fuelled by a narrow defeat in the preceding round of the Sodi World Series (SWS) Sprint Series, Saeed Al Mehairi bounced back to take a commanding SWS Senior Cup win at the Dubai Kartdrome on Monday night.
With a best lap time of 1:11.188, Rami Azzam opened the contest as the top qualifier, 0.127 seconds ahead of Al Mehairi and 0.193 seconds ahead of Ahmed Al Hammadi in third position.
The three drivers began Race One fighting for the lead with Al Hammadi dropping back to sixth position after spinning out. The other two karts carried on and Al Mehairi took control of the race and held on for the win. Azzam harassed the Emirati on every turn but was still 0.598 seconds behind at the finish line.
“Things happen sometimes in a race but I’m glad that everyone is happy now,” said Al Mahairi. “Even after the race they were shaking hands which is really good.”
Newcomer Pierre Oliver Chevalier made an instant impact in the Masters category, taking top honours over veteran Heiki Eelma in second place. Adrian Jones secured third.
SWS JUNIOR CUP
A dominant double win for Kyle Kumaran fuelled his has grand ambitions to compete in the next SWS World Finals.
His two rivals managed to get ahead of him in qualifying, with Ahad Minhas topping the timing screens with a best lap time of 1:21.431, which was 0.307 seconds better than Hugo Gid and 0.318 seconds better than Kumaran.
In the opening lap of Race One, Minhas and Gid dropped back and Kumaran got away clean. Kayne Cherian came up from fourth and Alexander Renner all the way from sixth on the grid to battle it out up front with Kumaran.
The three drivers scrapped the entire race, with Renner and Kumaranemerging side by side in the last corner of the last lap. Kumaran nosed ahead for the win, just 0.158 seconds ahead of Renner, with Cherian claiming third.
Kumaran took the winning momentum into Race Two, securing the lead and fighting off challenges from Patrick Debattista and Gid. He held on for victory, crossing the finish line 0.786 seconds ahead of Debattista, with Gid another 0.724 seconds behind in third place.
“The competition was pretty stiff; I was lucky to get up front so quickly,” said Kumaran.
Chelsea’s shock 1-2 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace at home, has reduced their advantage at the top to seven points.
While there’s still plenty of time left for the league to finish, do you think the Premier League title race is still alive?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers discuss the topic.
Get in touch!
MATT MONAGHAN, SAYS YES
It’s not just Chelsea’s shock slip against Crystal Palace which should give the Premier League’s chasing pack hope.
From recent history to upcoming fixtures and emerging deficiencies, there is ample evidence which suggests the chase for the title is not already sewn up.
Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke’s outstanding goals in the Eagles’ 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge helped cut the lead to seven points with nine games left and added intrigue to a season which once looked to be ending in a cantor.
The Premier League era is littered by false dawns from once-commanding positions. Manchester United in 2011/12 saw an eight-point lead with six games left disintegrate, in the process teeing up the iconic “Agueroooooooooo” moment as Manchester City prevailed.
United were the benefactors in 2002/03, Arsenal leading by eight points in March only to epically fall apart. Other collapses can also be cited, including Liverpool in 2013/14 and United in 1997/98. A look at Chelsea’s recent performances provides another fillip.
From conceding four goals in 13 matches from October 1-December 12, they’ve not kept a clean sheet in their last seven.
Up top, striker Diego Costa has two EPL goals in the last seven games after rocketing in 15 during the opening 20. Antonio Conte’s men have also lost a significant advantage in regards to a lack of European football.
They might not have endured draining multi-game weeks at any stage, but closest rivals Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are now both in the same situation for the last stretch after recent exits.
Chelsea still have to face five teams in the top half of the table, compared to two for Spurs and three for City. With Chelsea and City set to meet on Wednesday, this race is anything but run.
JAMES PIERCY, SAYS NO
Before Leicester were taken seriously around this time 12 months ago, it was the Premier League title race nobody wanted to win. A year on and it’s the title race nobody is capable of winning, other than Chelsea.
Because if the Blues are to start dropping points with Diego Costa’s goals drying up and a seemingly impregnable defence starting to look all David Luiz circa 2014, it’s going to require those behind them to start stringing wins together.
Manchester City are the lowest-placed team who can realistically catch Chelsea but since their remarkable start Pep Guardiola’s men have strung three or more Premier League victories together just twice: three wins – December 14-26 and four wins – March February 1-March 5.
They undoubtedly have the firepower to put themselves in a position to really put the pressure on Antonio Conte’s side but defensively remain a mess and, as yesterday showed, will draw too many games they should win.
Third-placed Liverpool also have plenty of attacking merit as the league’s leading goalscorers but eight of the division’s top 10 boast a better defensive record and their propensity to lose at the likes of Burnley, Swansea and Hull will be repeated.
Then we come to Tottenham who look the best balanced and most likely of the chasing trio, all the while with Harry Kane returning to fitness.
However, do they have the mentality to not only go level with Chelsea but then pass them, with matches against Arsenal and Manchester United among their final four fixtures? Games at home where expectation will be considerable against sides potentially fighting for fourth place.
There’s also the statistic that over the last four seasons, in their last 10 games, teams coached by Mauricio Pochettino possess a win percentage of just 45 per cent.
It’ll take some turnaround for Chelsea not to be crowned champions on May 21.