Duo Interview: Nicky Hayden And Crew Chief Juan Martinez On Working Together

The second pair of subjects in our series of interviews with rider and crew chief are Nicky Hayden and Juan Martinez. After Hayden left Honda and joined Ducati, he was first paired with Cristhian Pupulin - or Pipi, as he is called by the Italians in Ducati - but after a few races, Ducati switched Pupulin's role and recruited Juan Martinez to take over as crew chief. Since then, the relationship has blossomed, with the Kentuckian and the Spaniard building a good understanding of each other and getting to grips well with the difficult Ducati.

We spoke to Hayden and Martinez at the Sachsenring, ahead of the German GP there. During an interesting 15 minutes, we spoke about how the pair started to work together, what it takes to build a strong relationship between crew chief and rider, and where Hayden and Martinez feel the other excel. It provided a fascinating insight into the way that rider and crew chief work together, and the level of trust and respect the two must have for it to be a succes.

MotoMatters.com: I want to talk about your relationship, the two of you, and the way that you work together. Because to me, the relationship between rider and crew chief is so crucial. First of all, Nicky, when you joined Ducati, you had Pipi [the nickname of Cristhian Pupulin, a long-time Ducati engineer] as a crew chief. That lasted three or four races, but communication was difficult because of the language barrier. How did you end up paired with Juan?

Nicky Hayden: Well, Pipi was a great crew chief. His knowledge was very good, but the language was just too hard. We couldn't communicate, that was very difficult. So we could see after a few races it wasn't going to work. So we started to look around, see who was out there that spoke English, and also somebody that knew Italian.

I couldn't have had a better situation, because Juan had already been at Ducati. So he was able to jump in five races into the season and already have an understanding of the bike, the team. Speaks perfect English, perfect Italian. [Juan Martinez protests modestly] So I was really lucky.

Like you said, the crew chief is so important. I don't know what I would do, you know, it is really important to have a crew chief you are on the same page with.

MM: How quickly did you learn to understand each other? How long did it take to get used to each other? To understand what Nicky means and what Juan means when they say something?

Juan Martinez: I think for me, more than taking time to understand what he was really meaning, it was about taking time for me, to see the complete picture, to try to understand what they were doing, and in that time. Because they were deciding to replace, or change Pipi's position in that stage.

They were doing many things at that time, we have to clarify, they were working on the to try to help Nicky to understand what is going on, because he was coming from a Japanese team with English mechanics, coming from a quite stable situation, coming to a Latin/Italian garage, where everything is more loud. [Hayden laughs and jokes "Just a little bit..." ] I would say it is quite difficult for a rider sitting in front of you, without clearly understanding what is going on in front of you and then to be jumping on the bike and risking your life.

I think first of all we understood each other quite fast.

NH: It wasn't like we didn't know each other, he was at Gresini, I was at Repsol, so we had a bit of understanding, we knew each other and that helped.

MM: So the fact that you had already had a few interactions made it a little easier to get up to speed. But you said, first of all, the most important thing was to understand the situation, rather than anything specific?

JM: Yes, I think what I tried in the beginning, was creating a calm situation for me. Being able to recover the confidence, being able to have a clear understanding of what is happening around Nicky. And especially to translate what the loud sounds he was hearing around him, what is the meaning of them.

MM: You speak no Italian, Nicky?

JM: No, not really, other than cappuccino ...

MM: Fair enough. Was it the culture shock, when you came to Ducati, suddenly surrounded by people speaking a completely foreign language.

NH: It was some of that, but even the bike, the bike was a lot different. Especially at that time there was a bigger difference. It still had the carbon fiber chassis...

JM: For him it was completely different. It was a Ducati engine with Bridgestone tires, he was coming from Michelin. He was coming from Showa suspension. I would say the only thing the same was the brakes.

MM: So really you worked together quite quickly.

JM: Yes, I would say so.

MM: Was there anything that you struggled with, in communication, or was it clear from the very beginning.

JM: I would say from the beginning we were quite okay. I am not sure if you would say from the beginning...

NH: No, I would say from the beginning, when we were putting names together. You know, they threw up a couple of names to begin with, and I would just say, who, I don't even know him, and then another name, I was like, no way. And with Juan's name, it was pretty clear it was a good fit.

MM: So you had quite a big say in Juan coming here?

NH: Yeah, at the time, I was with Livio, and they were, we were all involved in it. It wasn't all my say, but of course they listened to me.

JM: Most important thing is from beginning, I respect so much what he was doing. He respect so much what I was doing we built up everything around respecting each other.

MM: The sense of mutual respect, you let him be the rider, and he lets you be the crew chief. I 'd like to talk about strengths and weaknesses, first of all you, Juan: what are Nicky's strongest points and weakest points?

JM: Weakest, still I have to find out.

NH: [Laughs] I was waiting to hear what it would be!

JM: The strongest one is he never gives up. He's quite a hard worker. He loves what he is doing, because he loves this this so much sometimes he is suffering, because he would like to make it much better.

MM: Yes, that is the one thing I get from Nicky as well, to never ever ever give up. If I asked you about, why do you keep doing this, you look as if you feel it is a really stupid question, because it is a really stupid question. What about Juan? What is his strong point? What does he do well?

NH: I would say, it is really important now to be a leader, to be a crew chief. The teams are so big now. You have so many specialists in each area. I mean a crew chief now has to sometimes be more of a manager, but he would also, not just work on the bike and make decisions, but has to be able to manage all the people.

You have a tire engineer, you have a suspension engineer, electronics, you know, take what they say, use their information, but then he has the final say. Something that is probably one of his strengths.

Also he understands the complete bike. Some people you work with, they are really good at geometry, or they are really good at suspension or engine, where now it is a complete package. You need someone that really understands everything.

MM: Yes, being able to put the whole thing together.

NH: And I would say his strong point is suspension, his background is in suspension, he did that for a long time, so of course that has got to be a strength.

MM: What happens when there is a conflict between the two of you? Is there ever a conflict between the two of you? Do you ever disagree about things? I mean, does Nicky come and say, I want this and you know that you can't give it to him?

JM: I think there is quite a bit of respect. Sometimes he has different opinion to my one. And sometimes it is impossible, even when you have a wife, and you are completely happily married to her, sometimes you have discussions or fights. That is exactly the same, but in the end the most important thing is, whenever he said something opposite to me, it's because he is believing with that he is going to get the best result with that.

And he has to understand when I say something opposite to him, he has to believe I am saying that to really achieve the best result we can.

We never really have a conflict. I mean, we have different points of view, but we respect each other, we try to get the best out of the circumstances.

MM: If you come in and ask Juan, I would like to have this on the bike, and he says, you can't have this because of these reasons, then it is just okay to get on with it, or do you discuss it?

NH: He has the final say on that sort of stuff. Some things I just say, okay, you make the decision because I trust him that much, but I can say we never had any real blow ups, no arguments.

Of course, when you have that many people who want to win that bad, of course people are gonna get frustrated when results don't come, of course. Everybody gets upset. But no, we have never had any real blow ups or anything, something that we couldn't work out.

MM: What is your level of technical feedback like, and the same question to you. What is this level of technical feedback. Do you think you are very technical, because you sort your own bikes out at home, right?

NH: I would say medium, if anything. They probably told me at times I am too sensitive, because you know, in the beginning, when I first started riding the Ducatis, even though both bikes would be the same they didn't feel completely the same. And maybe at times a little bit too sensitive.

JM: For me, I think he is quite well organized in his mind. So normally he is trying to follow a system and normally what is good from him, he is testing the things the same way, normally they are testing things repetitively. Because he is capable to reach the same level with different items on the bike.

Then normally he is giving quite good information. I think that he can understand that what we need is the feeling from the bike. This is really what he is trying to give.

He is, I would say, a technical rider. His technical skill as a rider is very high. Sure, there is no point to compare a rider to an engineer, but he has understood very well what he needs to give is being repetitive for the same thing. He has to be able to give the same comments. This is quite important having a constant comments from the bike. This is very good from Nicky.

MM: Thank you.

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Interesting... Stoner always rode just one of his two bikes; always complaining they didn't feel the same, even with the same settings. Even in qualifying, Stoner would wait for this team to make adjustments rather then ride his B-bike. Apparently, Hayden noticed the same thing.

How do you live (part-time) and work in Italy and speak no Italian?

He still speaks Kentuckian and he's been around people speaking English for most of his adult life ;-)

It's not like Europe where it seems like everyone speaks a second language, in America you're not expected to. Plus Nicky spent the majority of his career in Europe with Honda speaking english, and not learning any japanese either.

Congrats on getting another great interview! Reading these gives so much more insight into parts of MotoGP the fans don't always see.