We've been here before - another season, another opportunity for Noriyuki Haga
to become a World Superbike 'bride'…
It is remarkable to think that one of the most successful World Superbike riders – he is third on the all-time winners' list – is yet to experience title glory, but ten failed attempts later and Haga boasts a frustrating, if still impressive, 6-7-2-4-3-3-3-2-3-2 score line
Many consider 2010 to be the year that Haga wins a richly-deserving crown, although at the same time there are those that believe 2009 represented his best chance to break that hoodoo.
Indeed, while you ignore Haga at your peril, the manner of which he lost out on the title to a charging Ben Spies means there is less certainty surrounding the Japanese rider heading into the 2010 season. He is certainly one of the favourites, but while Spies has moved on, Haga still isn't exactly odds-on.
His cause isn't being aided by fairly modest performances in testing, in comparison to team-mate Michel Fabrizio
at least, while a backroom reshuffle raises questions as to whether a Davide Tardozzi-less Xerox team can maintain its stellar run of manufacturer titles.
For this reason, Haga remains a bit of an oxymoron – an assumed favourite, yet still a dark horse. Not a man to shine over a single lap (his 41 race wins, but just seven pole positions is testament to that), the Samurai of Slide is likely to keep us guessing right up to the moment the lights go green at Phillip Island next weekend…
On the other side of the garage, Fabrizio made big strides in 2009 and was fastest in the final pre-season test at Phillip Island. Although his occasional over-confidence made its presence felt at times in 2009 (Brno…), Fabrizio tempered it with some quality riding and his three victories went a long way to repay Ducati's investment in him.
By mid-season, Fabrizio was snapping at Haga's heels, but his title challenge had already been blunted by an erratic start to the year. It is a mistake he'll be determined to avoid during the early rounds of 2010, particularly if he wants to be seen as capable of beating his esteemed team-mate in a season-long exchange.
As ever, Ducati will continue to be supported by a handful of satellite operatives who will ensure the 1198 is well represented inside the top ten this season.
Last season, Ducati's privateer success was shared between Sterilgarda, Guandalini and DFX, but this year is set to see a different team earn favour with the Italian manufacturer – Althea Racing.