Maverick Viñales was back on a mission in Saturday’s Q2 session, staking his claim on provisional pole before the might of the Pramac Ducati’s relegated him to third.
Similar to last week, both the Factory Yamaha teammates were the last riders to head out on track with the aim to exploit the empty track space, however, Viñales‘ first run didn‘t quite go to plan. Due to a lack of grip, he wasn‘t able to climb any higher than provisional sixth place on his first lap.
The Spaniard immediately headed back into the pits with eight minutes remaining, in preparation for his second run. This time he was in his element and immediately set two consecutive fastest laps - his 1’53.267s originally gifting him pole with a 0.330s advantage but after the chequered flag dropped, he was pushed back to third, albeit retaining his all-important front-row start.
“Honestly, today the front row was very difficult” Viñales explained “because I didn’t have a really good feeling from the first time attack. I was sliding a lot and nearly crashed two or three times. I was a little bit disappointed because I didn‘t understand why but as soon as I started my second run I had amazing grip again, so then I understood that the grip level of the second tyre was much higher. I could profit from this and I was quite happy because I think it‘s very important to be on the front row. We were able to make an incredible lap-time. Honestly when I see the time I say, ‘maybe I have the pole’, but then I see myself third - they were fast, very fast, they were great today, so chapeaux!”
Seemingly happy with his front row start, the Yamaha rider is confident of race pace but aware that his start is the most valuable element of Sunday’s contest.
“For tomorrow, honestly, nothing planned” he continued. “I‘m hoping for a perfect start and then we will try to get into a good rhythm. Try to make a fast race, that is what we like, and then we will see at the end. Johann is working really smart this weekend, we see that he has a really strong pace. Also my teammate Fabio, and Joan Mir - I see also he was going fast at the end of FP4 - so overall I think the start will be important as always, we will try to don’t lose many positions, and I will try to start to push from the early laps.”
“I’m trying very hard, but seems complicated at the moment. With Yamaha we are working very hard but for sure, what we miss is the front start device, this makes a huge difference. I think Yamaha is working so hard to bring it as soon as possible.
“Qatar is a special track, there is not only hard-braking to overtake, you can overtake in many other points, but we will arrive to races where for us will be very difficult to overtake and we need to do everything on the start, so, it’s time to work on that. I work a lot - during all the test, the preseason, and now during the races - for sure I make steps forward, at least I want to be the first non-Ducati on the grid but I will try. Last race I lose a lot, I have a lot of wheelie, so we try to improve the second part of the start.
“Is not any surprise to everyone, but looks like we are the same guys there in the front and the rhythm is quite clear. In the race everything can happen. Overall I think we have a good potential for tomorrow, it’s very important to push from the beginning, to make a faster race, is interesting for us, and after that we will see. I will try to manage perfectly the rear tyre and see if I can be stronger than in the last race.”
Working well with the factory team, the Spaniard seems a calmer, more confident version of his previous self this season, so what does he put his early success down to?
“It’s all about trust and loyalty in the team. Overall I know what I’m able to, so I don’t have any stress. I know that we can do great things on the track. I understood very well that the first time attacks weren’t good, but I was calm, I understand it very well and after that I just push at the maximum, I push the correct way on the bike, and the lap-time was there.
“We just adjust small things, the riding style for sure today, the speed we have today was very fast because the wind was very strong, and especially in section three, we were not able to go fast. Let’s see if tomorrow we have a little bit less wind, that will help us in section three to be faster with our bike, to keep our rhythm. Tomorrow we will see. The race is difficult to understand because with the wind, the conditions can be very different.”