It was universally acknowledged that you were unlikely to find a happy, family atmosphere in the Repsol Honda garage. But just how bad things were is only now starting to appear, as the end of a long and unhappy marriage looms at the end of three years. For now, the partners involved are starting to speak out.
Nicky Hayden has been the most reticent of the two sides of the garage so far, refusing to criticize Honda for their treatment of him since he won them their last world title. But in a recent interview with the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, Hayden spoke out about what he believed was a fundamental flaw in the Repsol Honda setup.
Hayden felt that the team wasn't functioning as a team, with each side of the garage functioning independently and not sharing data to help develop the bike. "I don't like the fact that there's a wall separating the garages and that we're not sharing information," he told El Pais. "We're both on the same team, and we should be working together."
The problem, Hayden said, was not Pedrosa, but his manager. "[Alberto] Puig has too much influence on the team. In theory, he works for Dani, not Honda, but ..." he told El Pais. When asked how much credit Pedrosa still has with Honda, Hayden replied "Dani is great rider, with a lot of talent. But Puig is the guy with all the power at Honda, not Dani. Unfortunately, it's Puig who runs Honda. I know I'm not supposed to say so, but that's the truth."
It seems that Alberto Puig was not at all pleased after this interview appeared in the Spanish press. For today, Puig has struck back in an interview with the official MotoGP.com website, blasting Hayden with some damning comments. When asked about Hayden's objections to the wall dividing the garages, Puig told MotoGP.com "all I can say is that Hayden may be bothered because now he can't access information and telemetry data from Dani's bike. With this information he was able to improve his riding, as he had all of Dani's references and now he can't use that any longer. He was simply copying as he never knew how to set-up a bike."
He also accused Hayden of being a hypocrite in saying he has no problem with Pedrosa. "That's not the case. Everything changed with the incident in Portugal (in 2006), where Dani made a mistake during the race and apologised for it afterwards. Nicky eventually won the title and Dani did what he had to do in Valencia, which was to help him. But from that point -even if Hayden denies it- all he's been doing has been talking about how Dani was 'weird' and bringing the people around Pedrosa into the subject. He shouldn't act like a hypocrite and say that he doesn't have a problem with Dani, because since that incident in Portugal I think he has talked to him about twice."
Puig rejected the claims by Hayden - and repeated by other sources inside the paddock - that it is Puig who pulls the strings at Honda. "In my opinion, those who say that just lack respect to Honda and the work that they do. All I can do is bring my experience of racing like Honda has asked me to do, as I've been working for a long time with Pedrosa and Honda, forming the 125cc and 250cc teams and winning three titles with them. If you refer to Hayden saying that I'm the one who's in charge or used to be in charge, then he has to understand that in this job and in this paddock, anyone who believes he is in charge of anything is simply wrong. Nobody has control over things or is in charge of anything -results decide everything and put the people in the place they are."
And in a sign of what Andrea Dovizioso can expect when he joins the team next year, Puig made his position absolutely clear. "It is a logical step for a rider who has ridden for Honda his entire career, through 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP. He has shown loyalty to the factory, and now he gets a perfect move for him. As for how it will affect us? It really won't change much and won't affect our way of working. He will be another rival on the track."
Clearly, there is a clash of ideologies at work here. For Nicky Hayden, a team is a team, and should stick together. In his vision, everyone on the team, including the two riders, should be working together to improve the motorcycle and make it more competitive. Hayden's views are borne out by his work during 2006, when he was both chasing the world title he eventually won, whilst simultaneously developing the bike that was to become the basis for Honda's 2007 RC212V.
Puig, on the other hand, believes that each rider is an individual, and competes on his own merits. The team structure is a flag of convenience, a tool to help sponsors promote their products, and ensure that the team has everything it requires. Puig believes that a team is just a manner to achieve economies of scale, and that each side of the garage is on their own in terms of setup and data.
The two very different visions provide an interesting pointer to how Repsol Honda's two current riders will fare in the future. Nicky Hayden is heading off to Ducati, a team which has a lot of the family atmosphere he craves, and which has helped Casey Stoner become so competitive on the Italian machine. Dani Pedrosa stays where he is, and if we are to believe Puig's claims that their way of working won't change for next year, then we can expect to see the wall remain in place in 2009, despite both riders being on the same tires. Andrea Dovizioso is likely to receive the same treatment from Puig and Pedrosa that Hayden had to endure.
But Puig's words may yet turn out to be prophetic. "Results decide everything," he told MotoGP.com, and so might they decide the future of Dani Pedrosa and Alberto Puig. Paddock rumblings that Dani Pedrosa and Alberto Puig have one more year to win a championship are getting louder. The mid-season switch to Bridgestones cost a good portion of Pedrosa's paddock capital, and is as yet unproven.
What's worse is the pressure coming from Repsol, the Spanish sponsor of the factory Honda team. Repsol also applied pressure on Honda to force the switch to Bridgestones at Misano, and gave us the remarkable - and unique - spectacle of a major sponsor giving a press conference at a MotoGP race explaining why they wanted the change to be made.
For Repsol is getting increasingly desperate for a Spanish MotoGP champion, and may be mulling over the wisdom of their current investment in the series. Just how desperate Repsol are is clear from an advertising campaign currently running on Spanish TV, shown below.
In it, Dani Pedrosa is seen taking to the track, with a line of former Repsol champions behind him, pushing him on. A powerful image, but one which makes Pedrosa's failure painfully obvious. All of the bikes behind Pedrosa's all bear the #1 plate. Pedrosa's bike bears his current number, #2. Just how long Repsol are prepared to tolerate that situation remains to be seen. And with a rejuvenated Valentino Rossi, and Casey Stoner still in imperious form, Pedrosa's chances are looking frankly rather slim.