There was once a time when the MotoGP field would arrive in Mugello wondering who was going to finish second behind home favourite Valentino Rossi.
The hugely popular Rossi was unbeatable on home soil at the spectacular Mugello track where he notched an incredible seven straight victories between 2002 and 2008
Since that last win in ’08 on a podium shared with Casey Stoner and current world championship leader Dani Pedrosa, Rossi has found the going extremely tough in front of his devoted army of fans.
It was at his home race in 2010 that Rossi suffered the first and worst major injury setback of his career when he broke his right leg after a horrific practice high-side accident.
He was then humbled in 2011 on his Ducati debut at Mugello when he finished almost 26.5s behind Jorge Lorenzo’s factory Yamaha YZR-M1.
He improved to fifth on the Desmosedici last season and was only a second behind Andrea Dovizioso in third, but he was still well over 11 seconds behind Lorenzo, who won for the second season in a row.
Ever since Rossi returned to Yamaha for 2013, Italian fans have been fixated on next weekend’s Mugello date, wondering whether the 34-year-old can deliver an eighth premier class win at the Tuscany track.
The man himself has major doubts, even though Yamaha and Lorenzo have won at Mugello in 2011 and 2012 while he was floundering off the pace at Ducati.
In fact it is only twice since 2004 that Yamaha hasn’t won in Mugello when Stoner triumphed for Ducati in 2009 and Pedrosa for HRC in 2010.
“For me it is going to be difficult but it will be very important to make a good result. I love Mugello and I am very happy to go back with Yamaha. But it looks like in the dry we are not fast enough to try to win. Before we try to win we have to go faster, “said Rossi.
Rossi’s assessment might hurt but it is a fair and honest one given in four races back on the factory YZR-M1 he has collected just one podium with a scintillating recovery from seventh to second in the season’s opening race in Qatar.
But during a rain-hit Le Mans weekend recently the nine-times admitted that he was still not 100% comfortable on the Yamaha and that Lorenzo, in-form Pedrosa and rookie sensation Marc Marquez were simply faster.
And in two out of four races in 2013 he has been beaten by the satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1 machine ridden by inspired Brit Cal Crutchlow.
He said: I am still not at 100% with the bike. I have space to improve, but I am not fast enough for the podium. In Qatar we were first and second but the situation is like last year with Honda. Yamaha has to work but my first target must be to go as fast as Jorge.”