Call it a hunch, but I think that when Valentino Rossi leaves Yamaha MotoGP at the end of the 2006 season for a chance at immortality in the Ferrari F1 team, the man who will replace him will be American Nick Hayden.
It's not a popular opinion but I think that the required symmetry between the Repsol Honda team and Hayden has failed to gel and what remains is a very cool relationship between the two parties.
Why? Simply put, because Hayden is an American. Unless you've been in a bunker you can see from the daily news that Americans will not win any popularity contests in any corner of Europe these days. Expecting the teams in GP to be any different is unrealistic.
While I'll be the first to admit that my opinion is not based on any hard evidence and instead just on the vibe I've been getting for a while now, anyone who reads the HRC press releases might pick up on it as well.
Like today's release for instance. Presumably, the situation is that HRC has given Hayden the role of basically fine-tuning the RC211V for the entire RC211V army. He slashes through test programs and decides what works and what doesn't. He gets to go down test paths probably never seen by Melandri or Pedrosa--the downside is that some of those test paths don't yield fast lap times. It's the breaks of the game.
Today's release makes note of Hayden this way: Hayden has rear wheel grip problems and admitted the feed-back he gave the team was not up to his usual standard. His best lap time reflected his day as he was almost one second off Pedrosa's fastest lap. Factual? Yes. Tells the whole story? No. Pokes a stick in the American guy's eye while we can? You decide.
It's not like this is something new. Who can forget the HRC press releases when Hayden joined the team--the ones where they mimicked Hayden's Southern US inflection, but Valentino Rossi and other European HRC riders spoke in wonderfully correct English. And the one from last season when they spelled Hayden's name wrong. (In their defense HRC doesn't write these press releases, they hire a European firm to do it for them.)
As stated, these are not monumental transgressions, but give the impression that Hayden is the red-headed step-child in the HRC family. Nick Hayden will probably vigorously defend HRC in this, saying I'm just being too sensitive. I wonder what he'll say when he's riding at Yamaha, though?
It's not like this viewpoint of an American rider is rare in MotoGP press releases. When John Hopkins does well in a race, the Suzuki press releases characterize him as an "Anglo-American" meaning he was born in England (the Suzuki MotoGP team is run by British citizens) but later became an American. Which, maybe I'm old-school, but I'm of the opinion that if you were born in America, then you're an American until you decide to give up your citizenship. My forefathers left England over two hundred years ago for "the new world" of America. I don't call myself an "Anglo-American". And nobody else better either.
And when Hopkins has a bad day, Suzuki's own press releases call him simply an "American". Coincidence? You decide