Maverick Viñales labeled the first day of free practice at the Japanese Grand Prix as “really positive,” as he and fellow Yamaha runner Johann Zarco showed good speed, before ending FP1 inside the top five.
The 23-year-old placed a heartening fifth fastest in the morning session, before he neglected to fit slicks on a damp-but-drying track at the close of FP2, a decision which left him 15th at the session’s close.
But it was his feeling in the dry that had him smiling as he met the media on Friday afternoon. It was felt some of Yamaha’s recent improvements witnessed in Thailand were due to that weekend’s tire allocation and how that particular rubber reacted to the searing heat.
Motegi in Japan is a different prospect altogether, and Viñales believes the performance of his M1 on Friday proves the recent upturn in his performances are set-up related, rather than because of a fairly unique tire allocation.
“It’s been a good day,” he smiled, fifth on the combined timesheets, 0.282s down on pace setter Andrea Dovizioso’s best lap. “Honestly, it was really positive because we confirmed that the improvement we made in Thailand was due to the set-up changes and not due to the tires we used there.
“This weekend’s tire works completely different from those in Thailand, but we still came close to the top in the morning, so I’m pleased about today.
“However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I think we have to go ahead with this setup to try to be better on track.
“In the afternoon I was trying to work a lot on the wet tyres. This was important because we struggled last year, but this year the bike is better on the wet. The balance of the bike seems to work better both in the dry and the wet.”
Tech 3’s satellite runner Zarco echoed Viñales’ positivity, his performance on Friday putting him in a “very good mood.” Movistar Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi was less enthused, but vowed to continue working on Saturday.
Both Viñales and Rossi met the media wearing pink t-shirts as Yamaha supports an initiative to tackle breast cancer.
On the gesture Viñales said, “Today we also wore a pink shirt to fight against breast cancer. It’s a nice initiative and it’s something I want to do, because if we can get a bit more support for those who suffer from it, that’s always good.”