Valentino Rossi's arrival at Ducati is the biggest story of MotoGP's off-season, but while the focus is on Rossi's side of the garage, his teammate Nicky Hayden will be trying to ensure he is not overshadowed.
At Ducati and Ferrari's annual "Wrooom" preseason gathering at the Madonna di Campiglio ski resort, Hayden discussed his 2011 prospects with the media – and inevitably received plenty of questions about working with Rossi...
Q. Are you afraid that the changes that Valentino Rossi wants on the bike will affect you in a negative way if your styles are different?
Nicky Hayden: Not too much, no. For the most part, from what I know so far, a lot of his comments are very similar to what I think, so in some ways I'm looking forward to having his information and his feedback. He's been around a long time, has a lot of experience, and he's no fool, so he knows what he's doing. Hopefully his experience and him and his guys can help make our bike better.
When I was in Bologna last month, his guys were building the bike and the relationship between his team and my team felt pretty good. I look forward to having his input. We'll see how it goes as things move on. Obviously, he's going to want some changes, but for the most part I see it as positive.
Q. Last year Casey Stoner said there were problems with the front end and crashed a couple of times. Does it seem that you have the same problem? It looks like Valentino complained about this.
NH: For sure, that's one of the places we want to improve, to make the front better. There was poor front feeling, Casey found a few problems, and I think I was on the ground last year more than I've ever crashed in a season in my life – 11 times. So I'll try to cut down on that a bit, understand it a bit more and have a bit more of a cushion there, so when it is pushing, it's not too late.
Also, with our bike we sometimes struggled with turning, especially off the brakes. So we've got some ideas we're going to try in Malaysia to hopefully not just improve front-end feeling and feedback, but also to make the bike steer better and turn better, particularly with the brake off.
Q. Is it frustrating that after two years establishing yourself at Ducati, you now have another difficult teammate in Valentino Rossi?
NH: I'm looking forward to it. We've made some changes, a couple of little tweaks and adding some staff and a few more engineers to help me. I have a strong team around me of good guys.
I know the deal – being teammates with Rossi won't be easy. But really I won't get caught up in that. I'll focus on my job and my side. That's why I think it will work. Obviously, I know he brings a lot. That's what you get with a guy who's won as many races as he has. I don't really see it fazing our side of the garage too much.
I look forward to the challenge. Obviously it's not easy. Be careful what you wish for, but a strong teammate is what you're measured up against in our sport. I don't want to get just brushed aside, so I need to gas it up and stand up and be known. It will be a big challenge for me but I look forward to it and think it's going to be fun.
The motivation is really high in Italy, so is the excitement from the fans. I can't imagine what the atmosphere's going to be like when we get to Mugello. I think it's a pretty exciting phase for our team.
Q. You said Valentino had some similar comments to you. Have you had chance to discuss the bike with him, and how much do you expect to do so?
NH: We spoke a bit. We didn't sit down, close the doors and have a full-on board meeting or anything, but we had some general talk about things with the bike. We've got quite an open relationship, nothing different really to what I had with Valentino last time or any other teammate. Pretty normal chatter really.
Q. When you were teammates with Valentino at Honda, did you run similar settings?
NH: I joked in Valencia that when we were teammates last time, I took him under my wing... Last time we were teammates, I was a rookie. Everything was so new and we had a really good base. At that time with the Honda, you really didn't change a lot – more or less put tires on it and gas in it.
A lot's changed in MotoGP since then. Now you have so many more options, especially with the electronics. Then we had more like a Superbike style, you didn't change a lot, just small stuff. I think all the Hondas at that time ran a similar setup.
Q. You had a month off back home, did you do any special preparations?
NH: I had a small wrist surgery, I had carpal tunnel in my wrist. I'd had the surgery once early in my career, but last year in some races my hand was going to sleep, which makes it difficult to feel the brake and gas, so I had that cleaned up. It was just minor really. Then normal preseason stuff when you're home and not traveling.
Q. You said there were more engineers joining Ducati Corse. Will they be at the track?
NH: I wouldn't necessarily say "a lot," but I will have one person on my side. People came over from Ducati's Superbike team, and with Karel Abraham coming in, there's one more Ducati this year, so some of our guys went to help him. I wouldn't say a lot, but there will be a few more around. As the bikes get more and more advanced, you need more guys.
Q. Are you going to keep Juan Martinez?
NH: Absolutely, Juan is my crew chief. In my first year we didn't get to do preseason testing together, so last year that really helped that we didn't have to learn each other after the season had started. It definitely helped us in the off-season to understand each other. We've been in contact a lot since Valencia talking about things. I've got a good guy in my corner, he'll be there for sure.
Q. Are you still trying the different sized front forks?
NH: I think we're pretty fixed on the size.
Q. And what diameter will that be?
NH: The forks we ended the season with, the Valencia fork.
Q. Last year Valentino wouldn't share his data with his teammate. Has there been any talk about you sharing data?
NH: We haven't really spoken about it. I see it being pretty open. The little bit we were together at Valencia, just the chemistry between the two sides seemed open.
I don't expect a wall down the middle, it doesn't really fit in Ducati's way of working and the mentality. Maybe all that works, but Ducati really is a family and the whole team's – not just our team, but the satellite teams – engineers work together. Obviously we're going to want different things at different times, but I see it being a pretty good situation. It won't be difficult to work together when it's needed.
It's pretty much an open book around Ducati. All the engineers work out of the same truck and in some ways I think it's definitely a positive with Ducati. It's a smaller company than some manufacturers, but they make up for it in teamwork and attitude.
Q. Have you made a decision about which engine configuration Ducati will use this year yet?
NH: I think we'll have both options in Malaysia, but the plan is to go with the big bang. In Valencia that's mainly what I rode the whole time.
The screamer has some advantages in places, but you've got to find out what's best over 18 different races, 18 different conditions at different tracks, and at the moment we think it's probably the big bang.
Q. Who do you think will be your hardest rival apart from Valentino?
NH: There are really no slackers in MotoGP. The guy right now is [Jorge] Lorenzo, he's the guy with the title, but going down the list really they're all solid, they're all players. That's why I love MotoGP and know that it's going to be a big challenge this year. So I'm not going to single out any of the hardest rivals because they're all contenders.