Nicky Hayden says that while he is much happier with his form this season than last, he remains frustrated that he has not yet become a consistent frontrunner with Ducati.
Having initially struggled to acclimatize to the Desmosedici last year, Hayden has been much more competitive in 2010 and, after a string of fourth-place finishes, he currently holds fifth in the championship – equal with the absent Valentino Rossi and 10 points ahead of his teammate Casey Stoner, who has invariably dominated his Ducati stablemates.
Hayden admitted that his improved form was pleasing, but said he could not be totally happy until he was up with the likes of Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa at every race.
"When I signed up for Ducati, I didn't expect to run around at the back and I don't believe they did either," said Hayden. "To be tied for fourth in the championship, I think we've had a solid start. But we're not overly happy.
"We feel close, we've been close at times. But it's that next step – to really get up there and challenge the top couple of guys week in, week out – that we haven't been able to make and it's frustrating.
"But I'm really happy with the bike and the team, and I feel so much more comfortable on the bike and I'm having a lot more fun than I did last year, really enjoying riding the bike. So all that's good, but we always want more and want to take that next step."
He does not think there is a huge step required to close the gap, and reckons a few technical adjustments and more consistency could make the difference.
"It's not like something that's way up there, it's just a little bit," Hayden said. "Certainly need to get a little bit better on the front, get some more edge grip and just be able to put the whole weekend together – qualifying, race, the whole deal. I think it's there."