Maverick and Yamaha end 490 day win wait – 1 year, 4 months, 3 days. That’s how long Yamaha have waited to taste a MotoGP victory but at long last, it was stopped by Movistar Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales #25 at the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
The Spaniard ends Yamaha’s 25-race victory drought after storming to a spectacular win at the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, the Spaniard imperious in the second half of the race to eventually take his first win since Le Mans 2017 by 1.5 seconds over second place Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Vinales’ #25 race number rhythms with the 25 winless drought just like LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow #35 back in 2016 where the British rider had ended UK’s 35-year winless drought at the Czech Republic MotoGP race held in the wet.
“Well actually it’s an unbelievable day,” said a jubilant Viñales, but his start to the race was far less than unbelievable as he slipped back from P2 on the grid to P10 at one stage: “First of all I didn’t expect to start so bad, it was incredible. When I saw myself in tenth I said ‘Mav, you are stupid, what are you doing?’ And I just tried to keep my concentration and we worked so good this morning on the switch, the electronic. I knew that if I felt good I could be fast.”
And fast he was. All weekend in fact: The Spaniard didn’t finish a session outside the top three in Phillip Island and when he clawed his way to the lead of the race, there was simply no stopping Top Gun Mav from taking off at the front: “During all weekend I was in the top three so I just felt good and I say ok now I have to push. I didn’t have to think about the tyre I would just push and push and push. When I saw myself three or so seconds (ahead) I said ‘ok now you can relax a little bit and try to save the tyre’ but anyway it was close. It was close because both Andrea’s were coming really fast.”
With four laps to go the gap was hovering around four seconds but then Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) started to reel in the Yamaha at a high rate of knots, with Viñales’ lead being cut to 1.8 seconds with two laps to go. Viñales didn’t lose sight of his target though and took the victory at a track he really, really enjoys:
“Returning to the win at this track is something unbelievable. It’s the best track for me. Maybe the track made myself switch really good and that’s why I could make a little bit more and, really happy. Honestly during the weekend, the team were working really good and working in the way that I wanted and that’s unbelievably good.”
The last 490 days haven’t been easy for the Movistar Yamaha camp and this win lifts a huge weight off the Iwata factory’s shoulders ahead of 2019:
“Honestly, the season has been difficult. I needed that win, we needed that win, Yamaha needed that win,” explained the number 25 rider. “I said on Friday we need to be good and we need to be motivated to start next year really good and for sure that win is going to give us motivation and I’m really happy. All the guys worked so good over the weekend, just even yesterday we were dealing together, trying to be more confident between all the team and… the race just worked out how I imagined. Amazing, this morning I felt like I could do it and when I had the chance I just go and you know to show and prove my riding style was at the top today was amazing,” added the Spaniard.
As the lights went out at the start, it was Danilo Petrucci of Alma Pramac Racing who got a lightning launch from P8 to head around the outside and lead into Turn 1, but the Italian then ran off at Turn 2 to end his charge. However, fellow Alma Pramac Racing rider Jack Miller took advantage of his teammate’s misfortunes to take the lead of his home Grand Prix at Turn 4 – rinse and repeat for the Aussie from 2017.
Pole man Marc Marquez slotted in behind Miller with Iannone third, but heading into Turn 1 on lap 2 it was all change: Marquez took over the reins of the freight train, with Dovi slotting into second, Iannone was third and Miller was back to fourth. The swapping and changing at the front begun with the fast and sweeping Phillip Island circuit keeping the riders in close pursuit of each other. The racing was hard but fair under glorious Australian skies.
However, close then became too close for Marquez and Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco as the duo headed into the braking zone at Turn 1 on lap 6. Zarco’s front tyre came into contact with Marquez’ rear tyre, causing the Frenchman to lose control and crash at roughly 300kph in a hugely scary incident. Zarco’s bike severely damaged the back of Marquez’ Honda and subsequently, the 2018 Champion retired from the race. Thankfully, Zarco walked away from the incident uninjured.
This left Dovi leading from Miller and Iannone but then Viñales began to make his move. Starting P2, the Spaniard didn’t get a good getaway and was as low as tenth at one stage, but on lap 8 he made what would turn out to be his race-winning overtake at Turn 4. Maverick then took off in true Top Gun style and within a lap, he had created a 0.8 second lead.
Viñales was in the groove and looked like he was on rails around the Island. Valentino Rossi was leading the chase before Iannone then took the baton, but the Suzuki man ran wide at Turn 4 and dropped to the back of the quartet. Alvaro Bautista was taking no prisoners on his one-off Ducati factory ride, with he and teammate Dovi also taking it in turns to try and reel in Viñales. But no matter who it was out of the four, no one could match the Spaniard’s superior pace – 1.9 the gap on lap 13, which grew to four seconds by lap 21.
The battle for first was seemingly won but the fight for P2 raged on between Rossi, the two red Desmosedicis and Iannone, with Alex Rins also joining the fray the latter stages. On lap 23 it was the man who had dominated the weekend to get into P2: Iannone. Then, the gap to Viñales suddenly dropped below three seconds and then with two laps to go, it was 1.8 seconds. Surely Viñales wasn’t going to let this slip?
The answer was no, he wasn’t. The leader responded after being a second a lap slower to bring his YZR-M1 home in P1, 1.543 clear of Iannone, the latter beating Dovizioso in a battle for second. A mistake with just over a lap to go on the exit of Turn 10 ended Bautista’s hopes of a podium, a terrific P4 – his best result of the season – nonetheless for the Spaniard who helps Ducati Team close the gap to Repsol Honda in the Team Championship to 38 points, with Movistar Yamaha MotoGP now just 16 points off Repsol Honda.
Rins got the better of Rossi on the final lap to claim a fourth consecutive top five finish, ‘The Doctor’ settling for P6. Miller would bring his Ducati home in a solid P7 and as the leading Independent Team rider – the Australian just 6.7 seconds from the win – with Franco Morbidelli earning his best result of the season in P8 to take charge in the Rookie of the Year Championship – Hafizh Syahrin crashing out of a top ten place on lap 19 at Turn 4. Aleix Espargaro was able to beat Red Bull KTM Racing’s Bradley Smith by a whisker – 0.036 separating the duo at the line in P9 and P10 respectively. Great results for both riders which means all six manufacturers were in the top 10 at Phillip Island.
Talking of great results, 11th was Karel Abraham, this the Czech rider’s best result of the season, with Petrucci recovering to P12 at the flag. Scott Redding , Takaaki Nakagami and Xavier Simeon completed to points in P13, P14 and P15 respectively – the latter earning his first point-scoring finish of the season.
Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa crashed out of his final Australian GP appearance – rider ok. With Crutchlow out, this means none of the Top 3 Honda riders score points towards the manufacturer’s title with Red Bull KTM Racing’s Pol Espargaro retiring.