Casey Stoner reckons he is under less pressure now that he is leading the 2011 MotoGP world championship, as he goes in search of a fourth straight win for the first time in his career in Assen.
Stoner has won four out of six races so far this season and goes into Saturday’s Dutch Grand Prix with an 18-point lead over closest rival Jorge Lorenzo.
But Stoner believes his recent formidable form hasn’t ramped up the pressure on him.
Stoner, who became the first Honda rider to win three successive MotoGP races since 2003 at Silverstone earlier this month, said: "I actually feel a lot less pressure. After the DNF in Jerez, that was when the pressure started building up for me. We’ve been trying to chase down a points lead that we shouldn’t have given up, or at least lost that many points in Jerez. Now we have got the championship lead that pressure is pretty much off, so if we did make a mistake we won’t be a huge amount of points back in the championship."
Stoner also hinted that absent team-mate Dani Pedrosa has been psychologically damaged by the Spaniard's cruel run of injuries.
Pedrosa will be missing for the third successive race as he tries to recuperate from the broken right collarbone he suffered in a controversial crash with Marco Simoncelli in Le Mans.
It has been rumoured that Pedrosa had aggravated the damaged the collarbone in a supermoto training accident that required further surgery on a loose fragment of bone last week.
But Stoner said Pedrosa was finding it hard to motivate himself into a comeback, given he’s had three shoulder operations since last October, including two in the last few weeks.
Stoner added: "This is a bad situation for him to go back in for more surgery. If it was a clear situation then maybe he would be back already, but with another surgery it has made things a lot more complicated and by the sound of it, it is difficult for him to find the motivation for him to come back and ride again when he’s been so unlucky with these injuries. When he comes back we’ll have to see if he is ready again, but I’m quite sure if he’s at full fitness he’ll be ready to push at the front again."
Stoner also denied that Pedrosa’s lay-off had made winning the 2011 title a much easier proposition.
"It was a disaster that it happened and it shouldn't have happened. I don’t think it will make the championship easier without Dani there. I have a lot of competitors but Dani would have added to if for sure. If Dani was there in the last races we don’t know what would have happened," said the 25-year-old.