With a considerable question mark hanging over Nicky Hayden's participation in this weekend's Portuguese Grand Prix, satellite Honda rider Sete Gibernau - now Valentino Rossi's nearest championship contender - could find himself with a little extra HRC help at Estoril.

Hayden broke his right collarbone - and knocked his left knee - after falling from a 450cc motocross machine during training in Italy on Saturday. The American had a plate inserted in his shoulder during a short operation that afternoon to try and speed up his recovery, but Hayden's Estoril attendance is in serious doubt.

Logic would suggest that official HRC test rider Tohru Ukawa, a GP regular until this season, will take Hayden's place should the #69 be deemed unfit. But even if the former AMA Superbike champion attempts to race, it would appear unlikely that Hayden could continue his recent role as a podium contender.

Therefore, regardless of whether it is Ukawa or Hayden that occupies the pit space opposite Alex Barros, HRC must expect to have at least one factory RC211V out of race-winning 'influence' on Sunday.

That being the case, and with Gibernau having pulled 9-points clear of next best Honda rider Max Biaggi after victory at Brno, it would seem sensible for HRC to transfer at least some of their usual 'Hayden effort' to the Spaniard this weekend.

Potential sponsor conflicts could stand in the way of such developments but - as Gibernau has been at pains to make clear in recent races - his championship efforts have the full support of Honda president Suguru Kanazawa. While regular Repsol team members suddenly helping Gibernau is out of the question, the directly appointed HRC engineers are potentially much more transferable.

Such a 'human' HRC boost would be particularly useful for Gibernau since the Portuguese Grand Prix should mark his first event with the latest RCV developments, which Biaggi initially struggled with at the Czech GP and which Sete has only used in a subsequent two-day Brno test.

HRC technical help in setting up the exhaust and associated engine parts could well prove decisive - after all, it's no use being handed new parts without being instructed on how to get the most from them... and who better to do that than the people who designed them.



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