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..

Q:
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?

Nicky Hayden:
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.

Q:
Has Nicky Hayden changed to suit the bike, or has the bike changed to suit Nicky Hayden?

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.

Q:
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...

Nicky Hayden:
You've got to be smooth with it. That myth [about pinning the throttle] is wrong! I don't know where it comes from! This bike; it's a partner. You've got to work with it and get the most out of it and be really smooth with the throttle. It's not just twist the grip man and hang on. That won't work - or not for long anyway.

Q:
The rear 'pumping' on corner exit was a big problem for you initially, how is it now?

Nicky Hayden:
We made that a lot better, actually, with some electronics. I would say, if there is one single biggest improvement that we've made, that would be it. Now I need to get some more feel from the bike and more feedback so I can find the limit.

Q:
You've been quick on the bike in the wet since the beginning, what does that tell us about you and the bike?

Nicky Hayden:
That I'm great in the wet! No... The bike in the wet is strange because it doesn't give a lot of feedback. You feel so slow in the wet because it's hard to find the limit, but then the lap time comes. Not just for me but for everybody. The bike just works well in the wet.

Q:
How big a change was it going from Honda to the Ducati, compared with say going from AMA to MotoGP, or from 990 to 800cc?

Nicky Hayden:
I don't know, those are some big changes there! It's just that it was everything; new bike, tyres, suspension, team. The team was a lot different and I think that's where we are making most of our progress now. Everybody, the engineers and within the team itself, are starting to understand me better and find those last couple of tenths that really make the difference between being just inside the points and just inside the top five. It's so close. It's not two seconds that makes the difference, it's half a second.

Q:
You're riding alongside Casey, who it seems was born to ride this bike, how are you working together?

Nicky Hayden:
We've talked about a lot of things and he's been first class all the way, but some things that work for him don't work for me. Sometimes you've got to row your own boat. But me and Casey get on well and the team atmosphere is great.

Q:
What are the main differences between you and Casey?

Nicky Hayden:
Well the results have been one of the biggest differences! It's tough to say one element, sure he gets up to speed immediately. And his style, he somehow gets heat into the tyres so quick. Early in the year I struggled a lot, getting heat into the tyres, and that is one area where he is immediately on the pace.

Q:
Is there any significant difference between you in terms braking, corner speed or acceleration?

Nicky Hayden:
Off the corners. He gets off the corners a lot better than me and carries that speed all the way down the straightaway and has a lot better top speed than I have. That's one thing that's kinda been a big question mark for me and the team, why he is always so much faster at the end of the straightaways.

Q:
And it's because he's getting out of the corners better?

Nicky Hayden:
That and a combination of maybe the electronics and my [physical] size.

Q:
I think you are on a one year deal with Ducati. You've got more points, after nine rounds, than the three other Ducati riders - other than Stoner - had last year after nine rounds. Have you done enough to show you should be with Ducati next year?

Nicky Hayden:
I'm not sure. I actually have a two year deal with Ducati, but it is their option [to stay for the second year]. They haven't renewed it yet, so we'll see. I know there are a lot of games going on in the paddock. This and that. I signed on for two years and I feel like we can do something here. I don't want to give up now that we've come this far and start again. We'll see if they renew.

Q:
When do you think you will know?

Nicky Hayden:
The deadline is still a bit away. But I would think if they really want me back I would say we're gonna know soon. If they keep dragging it along then chances are I better go look for a new spot. But I like the team and I like the bike. I really feel like, even though the results haven't been good, the work we're all putting in is starting to pay off.

Q:
You fought and beat Rossi for the title, you've been team-mate to Pedrosa and now Stoner. Lorenzo is the only rider in the present top four that you haven't either fought closely or been a team-mate with, so what do you think of this year's title fight?

Nicky Hayden:
I think it's great. As a fan of this sport, after Barcelona we had a three-way tie for the championship. That's awesome! There's been some great racing and those guys up there are really on the limit. I can appreciate how hard they are riding and how good they are riding. Hey, we'll just sit back and see what happens. Anything can happen in racing. I wouldn't want to bet against Rossi though, he's looking so strong. But we'll see.

Q:
Finally Nicky, no one has ever won the MotoGP and WSBK titles, is that something you have any interest in trying to achieve one day?

Nicky Hayden:
My goal right now is MotoGP and I love it here. Sure it's hard and to think I'm gonna get back to winning the championship - I know how tough that's gonna be - but I've done it before and, as a rider, you always want to go against the best. World Superbike has got some great racing and strong talent, but MotoGP is still where it's at.