With the exception of his title-winning 2006 campaign, Nicky Hayden has made his best ever start to a MotoGP season - yet his Ducati team still heads to round five without a podium finish, something that hasn't happened since 2005.

Hayden claimed three fourth places in the opening three rounds of the year, before blotting his copybook slightly with a crash at Mugello, but he remains fifth in the standings - as the top Ducati rider - on 39 points.

To put that into perspective, this time last year Hayden had scored just nine points and he's also made the best ever start to an 800cc season by a Ducati rider other than Casey Stoner.

Hayden came within 1.8sec of victory at Qatar and has more points than Loris Capirossi - the only rider other than Stoner to win an 800cc race for Ducati - managed after four rounds of 2007 (Capirossi was eighth with 30 points and also one DNF).

But Capirossi did stand on the podium (once) in those four races and the lack of champagne is why Hayden is unwilling to label his start as anything other than 'solid'.

"It's hard to say you've had a great start with no podiums, but we can say it's been a solid start," said Hayden. "We've got a good base. The potential is there for a podium - I've been close and Casey would have been there without some crashes. I think we're in a good position to have a good summer."

The most impressive part of Hayden's 2010 performances has been the huge amount of time he's found in terms of race pace (in the events he's finished) compared with those same rounds last year - plus the fact he beat Stoner fair and square, for the first time ever, in round two at Jerez.

Nicky Hayden - time in seconds from victory Year: Qatar, Jerez, Le Mans (Average) 2010: 1.876sec, 9.015sec, 9.346sec (6.746sec) 2009: 48.883sec, 61.237sec, 56.647sec (55.589sec)

So how has he done it?

"The team really helped me a lot this winter. They got me a lot more comfortable on the set-up and we made a couple of changes in the team," said the #69. "In this sport that's a big part of it. It's not just about having good guys, but having the right guys in there that really understand the rider.

"At this level it's really hard to override the bike. Sure, you can make up a couple of tenths through riding, but you really need the complete package.

"We started the year off positive, had some fun and some good races. Obviously I hated to throw it away at Mugello, but now we've got five races in six weeks and it'll be really important. I feel pretty good."

But even in Valentino Rossi's absence, Hayden - who last stood on the top step of a MotoGP podium at Laguna Seca in 2006 - knows it won't be easy to make the final step and challenge for race wins.

"As you get closer [to the front] the steps get harder and harder," he said. "But I believe in the package we have - we have a great bike, a great team - and I believe in myself.

"Sometimes it still seems a long way off, but we've been there before and I firmly believe we can get back there.

"I'd love to make that step at Silverstone. That may be a little early though."

Free practice for the British MotoGP at Silverstone takes place later today (Friday).


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