Nicky Hayden spent most of his press briefing at Ducati’s 2013 MotoGP launch in Italy this morning looking forward to what he hopes is a brighter future after a tough campaign last year.
But inevitably the American was asked to reflect on Valentino Rossi’s nightmare two-year spell at Ducati that ended with the Italian icon scoring just three podium finishes in 35 races.
Rossi’s morale and confidence was drained by Ducati’s finicky Desmosedici and the 33-year-old is bidding to recapture former glory at Yamaha in 2013 having been reunited with bitter Spanish rival Jorge Lorenzo on a factory YZR-M1.
Hayden was asked whether he always agreed with the development direction Rossi pushed for to try and improve the Desmosedici, which was hampered by understeer and acceleration grip issues.
The 2006 world champion said: “Hindsight is great but if I could change now I would probably do some things different but I really felt good support from Ducati. Every rider has some small preferences but Valentino and I were normally on the same page and wanted the same thing, so I didn't have any real problem with him.
Over the past two years they took some unfair criticism saying they didn't try enough to give him what he wanted and I certainly disagree with that. I think they went above and beyond trying to please him and unfortunately that was a little bit negative because maybe we tried too hard to improve and made too many big changes during the season.
But that was only because we wanted to win and to make a big step. The aluminium chassis was something Valentino wanted and I think that was the biggest change and I had no problem with that, especially now with control tyres. When they make the tyre for all bikes we needed to be on a similar chassis as the rest. That was a big step.”
So was Rossi’s departure at the end of 2012 a loss or more of a relief?
“I see it both ways, “admitted Hayden. “I had no problem with Valentino over the past two years. I was very competitive with him and until my crash at Indy last year I was beating him more than he beat me. Maybe there are some good points for me without him, maybe some more focus on me and listening to my ideas.
But also there are negatives because there are benefits to having Valentino on the team. He brought a lot of motivation to the team and when he spoke people really listened. If it wasn't for him maybe we would never have got the aluminium chassis as quick as we did. I was grateful for that. When I look back the results weren't what we all hoped when we sat here two years ago.
There was so much expected of Valentino on an Italian bike and unfortunately it didn't work. But this is life, we tried, but it didn't happen. I look forward to racing against him now. It's exciting for MotoGP to have him back on the Yamaha. And I know we at Ducati still want to beat him very badly."