With all the hoopla surrounding Valentino Rossi these days, you would be forgiven for failing to notice that his 22-year-old rookie teammate is having a superb first year in MotoGP (not to mention his first year in Europe, altogether). Now hovering near the podium virtually every week (whether he is at a track he has seen before, or not) Nicky Hayden has shown the skill, and maturity, that holds great promise for his future.
Nicky is also close enough to the front, already, that just another small step forward next year could land him on the podium consistently. Could he challenge for the championship, next year? Why not? He is already dicing with great champions (like Max Biaggi and Loris Capirossi) who are on the flat end of their learning curve, while Nicky is riding up the steep end of his own.
Nicky has developed into a consistent rider who crashes very little. Next year, he will be consistently fast, and a potential rival to Rossi. Particularly, if Rossi leaves Honda and has to learn, and set up, a new bike next year, the championship could present a real dog fight, with Nicky Hayden in the thick of things.