Keeping Stoner is Ducati's main objective

The team official is keen to hold on to their "strongest driver" even as they aim to lure away nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi from Yamaha.

MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO // Keeping Casey Stoner at Ducati rather than luring Valentino Rossi is the main priority for the MotoGP team's general manager Claudio Domenicali. The nine-time world champion is being lined up to join the Italian team when his contract ends with Yamaha at the end of this season. That puts the futures of Stoner and Nicky Hayden in doubt as their deals also expire.

Stoner has already been linked with Honda, but Domenicali said: "It is true that agreements will expire so there may be some differences. But it's more important to keep Casey. That's my priority. "Casey is, talent-wise, the strongest rider in the world. Last season, Nicky gave us a wonderful lesson. He never gave up. This is our motto." Domenicali is confident the uncertainty will not affect the pair in the championship battle, which begins in Qatar on April 11.

Stoner, in particular, was tipped to shine after recovering from the illness - caused by lactose intolerance - that saw him miss three races in mid-season last year. "We are all professional and it's up to us to manage our job correctly and do the best in the championship. I don't see any difficulties over the contract issue," said Domenicali. "One would have to be mad to have doubts about Casey as a rider. "We could not understand how we could help him with his illness, but what's important is Casey is with us now and in the best shape we have ever seen him."