After six seasons in MotoGP with Repsol Honda, highlighted by victory in the 2006 world championship, Nicky Hayden
became Casey Stoner's third different Ducati Marlboro team-mate in as many seasons for 2009.
It was a formidable task, given the prior experiences of Loris Capirossi
and Marco Melandri
with the 800cc Desmosedici. And Hayden wasn't only changing teams and bikes, but also tyres - having spent his entire career with Michelin - and just as MotoGP slashed winter testing.
The 2009 season started with a worrying twelfth from 16th on the grid at Qatar, following a big qualifying accident, and Hayden was then taken out on lap one of the Japanese GP. However, steady improvements since have taken the American to a best of fourth on the grid (Germany) and fifth in a race (America).
For comparison, Melandri also claimed a best race result of fifth last year, but didn't start higher than eleventh on the grid. Hayden, who has scored 46 points, is now just five points behind Melandri's total for the entire 2008 season.
During Wednesday's London media launch for the British Grand Prix, Crash.net
sat down with Hayden to discuss his first nine races as a Ducati rider - including his progress with the bike, the 'myths' surrounding the Desmosedici, life alongside Casey Stoner, where he stands regarding the 2010 season and more..
Following your first ride on the Ducati, during testing at Valencia last year, if someone had told you that after nine races you'd have qualified a best of fourth and finished a best of fifth, what would you have said?
I'd have been mad at them! I knew after the first day it was going to be hard but I hoped to have a better season up to now than I've had. It's been a lot of work but I'm quite proud of the team and everybody. The way we've hung in there and made progress. We've made some real progress this season. The level now in MotoGP is so high it's been tough for us. But I've got a smile on my face again and I'm looking forward to the second half of the season.
Has Nicky Hayden
changed to suit the bike, or has the bike changed to suit Nicky Hayden?
It's been a combination. I've had to adjust my style a lot and learn a lot. Just to understand and get a feel for the bike. Also the team, they did a lot of work to change the bike to suit me better. We've changed the riding position in the last few weeks and that's helped a lot. Just spending more time on the bike and with the team has been a big help.
There are conflicting opinions about riding the Ducati. Some people say you should just pin the throttle wide open but others, including Niccolo Canepa, say you have to be very gentle with the throttle...