Nicky Hayden hoped his switch to Ducati would launch him back to the front of the field after a frustrating end to his Honda career, but so far the 2006 world champion has found the Italian team's 800cc bike just as hard to tame as Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri did before him. Two big crashes and the testing and practice cuts have not helped either.
But the American remains optimistic, as he told journalists including AUTOSPORT after another difficult qualifying session in Spain.Q. How are you physically now after the Qatar and Japan crashes?Nicky Hayden:
I've obviously probably been a little bit better in my life, but... I don't feel great, as you'd expect. Two big crashes in consecutive races will beat a guy up pretty good, and not much time from Japan to here, but I'm okay to get back to ride.Q. Did the accidents slow your progress with the Ducati?NH:
It didn't help. Also in Japan it was really unfortunate not to get to do the race. I could've used another full day on the track, and more data and more information. But what do you do?Q. You set your fastest race lap on the very last lap at Losail...NH:
Fastest lap of the weekend for me.Q. That suggests that track time really matters for you. How much have the cuts in testing and practice hurt you this year?NH:
It hurts everybody. I would say it probably hurts me more than the rest, with a new bike, new team and new tyres. I don't want to go on and on. It is the same for everybody, but especially when you're struggling you need the time to understand things.Q. Is it fair to say that the Ducati is a hyper-sensitive bike?NH:
It can be very sensitive, and other times it's not sensitive at all. But today in the wind it made it very sensitive. I thought this morning we had quite a good session. We were quite consistent. I started on old tyres and was not far away. Man, maybe I was too excited for qualifying because I really thought I had a chance to not really shake things up, but I thought I could be competitive. It turned out that we made a little change to the shock and we went out and whether it was the wind or the shock, but I certainly had some issues.Q. Everyone says that riding for Ducati is completely different to riding for any other team. Is that right?NH:
I've only ever ridden Hondas in GPs so it's not like I could tell you from having ridden them all. Sure, it feels a lot different to the Honda, in how you go about the set-up, but also the tyres are so different. It's hard for me to know what's the tyres and what's the motorbike. The positive thing is Casey is so fast. It's not a question of whether the bike is capable. I've just got to find the setting and the feeling and make it happen. This morning was quite frustrating because I really felt like I could make some progress this afternoon and be competitive.Q. In sectors three and four you were really struggling today, was that due to the wind?NH:
I've struggled there all weekend, and then with the wind it exaggerated it.Q. Dani Pedrosa was very quick in T4, a quarter of a second faster than anyone else. What is that down to? NH:
It's front end and turning. The more you've got to touch the brakes to make it turn in those fast corners, your speed just drops so quickly. So when it doesn't turn you have to physically stay on the brakes. It's fast corners, and fast corners are where you lose all the time.Q. Looks like Casey Stoner has no traction control, whereas you're using some at the corner apexes. Is that just for safety while you're not comfortable on the bike, or just while you're learning?NH:
I'm not sure. That's more just the setting we found. I'm not sure if we're that different on traction control, or just because I'm spinning worse. Maybe you don't hear the noise because of the spinning.Q. Are you giving the rear tyres a harder time?NH:
I don't think so. From the spinning, yes, but he certainly puts more load through the tyre.Q. So he's spinning and driving, but you're going forward?NH:
Sometimes the spinning doesn't really work the tyres much, it's just grip and loading.Q. Do you feel you will make progress? Are there are circuits you think could be particularly good for you?NH:
Le Mans. This bike's very stable on the brakes and it certainly accelerates well, so I'd hope Le Mans would be good for us. Japan should've been a good track for me with this bike because on the brakes I'm quite good actually, compared to Casey I don't lose any time and it's a lot of start/stop. France has a lot of that too.Q. Is the plan for tomorrow just to try and finish the race?NH:
It's hard to say. Obviously you want to get to the end. But at this level, just riding around you don't learn anything from doing that, so we've got to push hard. We'll probably make some little changes in the morning and then go for it. Race day is always the day that counts, so I'm looking forward to it even though I'm starting at the back. I don't have a lot to lose, so I'll go forward and try and make something happen.Q. It seems like you have to crack the code of how to ride this Ducati. How far away do you feel you are from doing that?NH:
As a rider, sometimes at the end of the session, down in the box, you might feel miles away. But I believe a lot in myself and the team, so I literally feel like it's right around the corner. It's just going to take one little deal to understand it, and then the rider makes the difference.Q. Do you enjoy the atmosphere here at Jerez?NH:
It's a special place. Even today for qualifying there were a lot of people out there.Q. Can you hear the crowd?NH:
Yeah, on the warm-up lap and the cool down lap. You pretty much knew who was on pole just by the sound. Didn't have to look at the big screen.Q. You've had a few races at Ducati now, and it's pretty well documented that at times you didn't feel you had the support you needed at Honda. How are you feeling at Ducati? Loved?NH:
I don't want to say I didn't feel like that at Honda. There were certainly some people there who... I don't feel like I got the treatment I deserved after my title, but my team - I loved my team. Those guys... I never did anything so hard as leaving those mechanics. Those guys made me a world champion. Honda gave me a great bike for the better part of ten years so I'm not bitter. The 800cc thing didn't work, but I definitely don't want to say anything bad about my guys there. Even now I see them and it's still a special bond that we have.
These guys do too, but it's only been two races. But certainly they're committed and they're trying to make it show that it's not just a bike for Casey. Everybody wants to make it happen - Casey, Livio (Suppo). He's certainly behind me. Everybody here is behind me. Sure, we need more time to communicate and work together.Q. Is there a language issue?NH:
Truthfully, a little bit at times. The communication and how they do things is different. But the actual language now, we've got that part down.Q. Mika Kallio has come straight from 250cc and seems to be coping better with the Ducati. Do you have to adapt your style?NH:
Sure, there's something. When I'm two seconds off the pace I've got to adapt something.Q. It's been announced today that practice will go back up to one hour again, what's your view on that?NH:
Good news for me. It's going to help everybody, but I hope it will help me a little bit more than the rest. The only way I'm going to get there is with track time and working at it. It's not going to happen in my sleep. The 45-minute sessions do feel a bit rushed now. With a new team, this gives us more of an opportunity to work through things, so I prefer the hour for sure.Q. You won the title in your fourth year with Honda, and that's how long Dani Pedrosa has now been with the team. What kind of pressure is he likely to be under?NH:
I don't know. That's a question for Dani. I'm not sure.