Repsol Honda have just officially announced that Nicky Hayden will miss the Czech Grand Prix at Brno this weekend. The Kentuckian damaged his heel when he landed heavily after a jump during a Supermoto race at the X Games in Los Angeles on August 1st, and is still in a lot of pain.
Although the injury does not necessarily prevent Hayden from riding, racing at Brno could exacerbate the damage, leaving the American with problems for the rest of the season. Citing the examples of other riders who have ridden with injuries only to make their problems worse, Hayden said he would prefer to concentrate on recovery rehab, and come back at Misano fit, and try to finish the season well.
Hayden apologized to his team, especially after having received special permission to take part in the race at the X Games. "I just wanted to do some riding during the break, have some fun and I thought that maybe it'd give me a little spark for the rest of the season, but it backfired on me," he stated in the press release.
Hayden's decision to withdraw from Brno is interesting, from a number of perspectives. Firstly, it points to a shift in thinking inside the paddock about riding with injuries. Every rider does it, as it's just not possible to ride an entire MotoGP season without crashing at some point, whether it be during the race, practice or just on a training ride. If you want to ride on the limit, first you have to find the limit. And that means that sometimes you have to go over the limit. Thanks to the outstanding protection offered by modern protective motorcycle gear and the never-ending push to improve safety at racetracks, injuries are becoming less severe, meaning often riders are racing with some discomfort, rather than serious pain. But riding a large, hard object with protuding parts at high speed will inevitably mean that riders end up hurt, leaving them the choice to brave the pain and score points, or sit the race out and focus on recovery.
This season, a lot of riders have been riding badly hurt to little apparent effect. Loris Capirossi has ridden the Suzuki to mid-pack results with various injuries, and John Hopkins has soldiered on with the frankly disappointing Kawasaki with a groin injury, a back injury, and will appear at Brno still recovering from a broken leg. Dani Pedrosa attempted to ride at Laguna Seca with broken fingers and a broken ankle, and only gave up when it became apparent that the tires Michelin brought meant that Pedrosa couldn't be competitive, whether healthy or not. And then there's Jorge Lorenzo, who you could argue made his injuries considerably worse by racing when injured, with the pain from his huge highside at Shanghai possibly partly responsible for crashes at several races which followed.
Hayden's decision to skip a round and come back when fit could mean that some riders are just not prepared to take that risk for a handful of points, unless they are still in with a chance at the title. The thinking may be that if you are not in contention for the championship, then you need to concentrate on podiums and race wins, and foot and hand injuries are precisely the kind of problem that will prevent you from being able to push hard enough to run at the front. Whether this is a one off, or whether we will see this more often towards the end of the season remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see if this is a trend among the riders or not.
The other, slightly more conspiratorial, explanation for Hayden's decision to withdraw from the Brno Grand Prix is that he believes that Repsol Honda will not renew his contract. Hayden has been waiting for word from Honda for a couple of months now, and as the season has progressed, his prospects with Honda have looked less and less realistic. If Hayden has decided that Repsol are unlikely offer him a new contract, then it makes more sense for him to concentrate less on pleasing his current employer, and more on impressing future employers. And struggling around outside the top 10 with an injury makes less of an impression than dicing with the front men while fully fit.
Of course, that is just speculation, based on nothing more than a press release and a healthy dose of skepticism. With Repsol Honda due to announce their team very soon now, we shall soon see just how accurate that speculation turns out to be.