SEPANG, MALAYSIA, FEB 7 – The 2012 MotoGP World Championship ended with Valentino Rossi leaving Ducati and Nicky Hayden staying. Rossi couldn’t wait to get on a competitive bike, any bike, and Hayden also had some interest from other teams. But in the end he chose to stay with the factory which took him in in 2009 and has supported him ever since.
The past two years were hard on Rossi and Hayden. Ducati spent endless amounts of money for very little progress. The Desmosedici engine has massive amounts of violent power, so much so that a lot of time was spent trying to figure out how to tame it. There was one chassis after another, swingarms, and anything that might help. Nothing did. So when Rossi had a chance to move back to Yamaha, he took it, and he hasn’t stopped smiling. Hayden, meanwhile, is left to answer the same question he’s been politely if not enthusiastically answering for two years: When’s it going to get better? The first MotoGP test of the year brought some clarity for one and continued muddiness for the other, and it’s not hard to guess which is which.
Rossi cracked wise every chance he got, once he realized he hadn’t lost his mojo. He joked about the team being able to leave early, with a motorcycle intact rather than in pieces across the garage floor. He joked about competing for wins, rather than fighting for sixth. What wasn’t a joke was his riding. Yes, he wasn’t the Rossi that last won a world championship in 2009, but he was faster than all but the two best riders in the world, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, and he showed Repsol Honda’s wunderkind Marc Marquez that joining the senior party may not be as easy as he made it look. For his part, Marquez was humbled by his own performance and said all the right things. As did Hayden, though for different reasons. The Ducati he struggled on last year was the same one that showed up in Sepang, only with a different paint job. What never worked last year wasn’t going to work this year. So after three frustrating days of being two-plus seconds off the pace, Hayden tried to put the best spin on it. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.
While Rossi is clearly enjoying...
While Rossi is clearly enjoying his return to Yamaha, Hayden is left to continue the development of the still-struggling Desmosedici.
“It’s not just if we get rid of the chatter, a little bit better turning, it’s not going to be two seconds,” he said. “It’s not like we need to be looking right here,” just at eye level. “Normally, you don’t find parts that are half second here and there. We need to open up our expectations and look for some big changes instead of just looking at something slightly different. Expand the horizons.”
Hayden started with a state of the state statement. “Well, you know, obviously we’re not leaving here just thrilled,” he said after setting the ninth fastest time as the top Ducati rider, 2.010 seconds from the pacesetting Pedrosa. “We knew this test wasn’t going to be easy. We tried to be optimistic and hope that just building the new bikes we could be closer, but, you know, they’re basically the same bikes with just different paint jobs on them. In reality it was a bit wishful thinking. But we did get some ideas and got some data, some information, and it’s clear we got a lot of work to do. So just stay positive.”
Valentino Rossi is obviously...
Valentino Rossi is obviously elated at the results of his switch to Yamaha, with the Italian finishing the Sepang test in third spot.
For Rossi it was easy to be positive. He’d come to the test in less than peak form, by design, though it’s hard to know why. He admitted not being able to string together long runs and didn’t on Thursday. Lorenzo did. The plan was to do a simulated 20-lap race, but a light rain fell around lap 14 and he had to pull in. Still, his pace and consistency was impressive and Rossi knew he couldn’t match it.
“If I try today to do the simulation, for sure I cannot go fast like him,” Rossi said. “So we have to work. But starting the season with, anyway, the potential and the target to try to work and improve for fight with Pedrosa and Lorenzo is already a good step.”
The ability to compete at a high level put Rossi in “another world, is another, completely another situation,” he said. “Is like do another sport, because if you start, for sure you know will be very hard. But I can start the championship to fight maybe with Lorenzo, Pedrosa, this is about the amount of motivation is 1000 times more than in the last years where you know that you can fight maximum for the sixth place.”
Having watched the evolution of the frontline Japanese MotoGP machines, Rossi understood that with the new 1000s he’d have to change his riding style, so he did, successfully. “And after the first test, feel, I am a lot more confident, because with the M1 if I try to modify something, it works, in my style. Unfortunately, in the last two years never.” Which is where Hayden finds himself at the moment.
“I’d say we pretty much tried about everything on this bike,” Hayden said. “ I mean, they got some ideas for the next test with this bike for electronics, but, you know, the actual bike, we’ve been about most places.” Except the podium, and unless something radical changes, that’s not going to happen any time soon.