In the penultimate part of our restrospective on the season just past, we look back at Nicky Hayden. Here is our view of his final season with Ducati, and his move to Aspar for 2014. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; and part 8, Andrea Dovizioso.
|Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory|
It's been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since joining Ducati in 2009, his results have been in steady decline, along with the performance of the Desmosedici. The 2013 season was the second season in a row where the American did not score a single podium, Hayden finishing in the same position as 2012, with four more points than last year.
This year was probably his toughest with the Italian manufacturer. Hayden found himself battling with teammate Andrea Dovizioso just about all year long, starting from the first race in Qatar. The Ducatis were a match only for each other, not for the other prototypes. In twelve of the eighteen races, Dovizioso and Hayden finished behind each other, the only other rider they regularly tangled with being Bradley Smith, a MotoGP rookie. More times than not, Hayden emerged as loser of the intra Ducati battles, finishing behind Dovizioso nine times, and ahead of him only seven times.
The fact that Hayden was not beating his teammate would end up costing him his job. The American was left waiting for a long time for word from Ducati, though by the time the circus rolled up in Assen, Hayden could see the writing on the wall. 'I'm not feeling it,' he said, Ducati not even approaching him about a renewal. At the Sachsenring, he was told there was no place in the factory team for him, though Ducati were keen to keep him in the family, trying to persuade him to switch to World Superbikes to race the Panigale, or else line up in the Pramac team with factory backing.
That news, and the news that Cal Crutchlow would be taking his place, left Hayden frustrated, but he turned his frustration into determination, focusing even harder on beating his teammate. The battles between the two grew tougher, the most memorable moment coming at Indianapolis, where Hayden put a very harsh move on Dovizioso at the very last corner, the two running wide and jumping the kerbing laid down to mark where the infield track meets the oval. Both Hayden and Dovizioso were spoken to firmly by Ducati management, and told to treat each other with a little more care on the track. Hayden complied, but still battled hard, beating his teammate in the last three races of the season.
Hayden had been hampered all season by a swollen wrist, the result of a screw fitted to fix an injury sustained at the start of 2012. The swelling came and went, but was clearly visible every time Hayden spoke to the press. The American never complained - it is not in his temperament to complain - but appeared to be treating it gingerly on several occasions during the season. It probably had a bigger effect than he let on, and Hayden finally had the screw removed after the final race of the year at Valencia.
Being released from his contract with Ducati had the positive side effect of freeing him up a little from his corporate persona. Ever the gentleman, and ever the good company spokesman, Hayden let things ride a little, speaking more freely than he ever has before, pointing more clearly to where he believes Ducati went wrong, and telling the press that he regretted not having another shot at testing the carbon fiber chassis again at the end of the 2011 season.
Release for Hayden came finally at Australia, when the Aspar team finally announced they had signed the American, and would be racing Honda's RCV1000R production racer. By that time, Hayden's signing with Aspar was an open secret, the American's father and brother having regularly been spotted entering the Aspar truck. Being caught out on social media didn't help, Hayden getting the privacy settings wrong on a training app, and uploading a run which he had taken in Noale, the home base of Aprilia. After Gigi Dall'Igna left Aprilia for Ducati, Aspar quickly dropped their original choice of continuing with Aprilia, and with the backing of American Honda, secured a production Honda for Hayden and his teammate Hiroshi Aoyama. Having Hayden on a production Honda will be an excellent test for just how good the production Hondas are in 2014.
Nicky Hayden's season had very few high points on track, with the possible exception of his fierce battles with his teammate. But the real high point came off track, when he finally announced his signing with Aspar. Though his future had never really been in doubt, signing with the best CRT team - or Open team, as we must now call them - was a boost for the American. A visibly more cheerful Hayden once again found new motivation. A change, as they say, is clearly as good as a rest.
If signing with Aspar was the high point of his season, the low point was losing his factory seat at Ducati. Hayden had been clear that his goal was to stay in MotoGP, and the World Superbike offer from Ducati was something he was only prepared to entertain as a last resort. What irked Hayden most about losing the Ducati seat was that he felt progress was imminent. He had gone through so many hard years with Ducati that to miss out when (or if) Ducati finally did start to show real improvement would be too frustrating to contemplate. Given the revolution going on at Ducati at the moment, it would have been a long wait for Hayden anyway.