Fiat Yamaha has defended its decision to send Valentino Rossi out on a hard compound front slick, which looked to cost the Italian his eighth home Mugello victory in a row.

Starting fourth on the grid, the reigning six-time MotoGP world champion made steady progress in the wet opening laps, taking the lead on lap 8 of 23. Although soon passed by countryman Marco Melandri, Rossi was still holding a close second place when he pitted for his dry bike.

The top four riders at the time - Melandri, Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner - all pitted at the end of lap 10.

Stoner returned to action with medium compound slicks front and rear on his Ducati, while Lorenzo's side of the Yamaha garage went for a medium front/hard rear combination. However, team-mate Rossi returned with hard compound slicks both front and rear.

The hard front slick had been the expected choice had the full race been run in the dry, but took much longer to build temperature on the damp track - while the reduced dry distance meant endurance wasn't such a critical factor.

The end result was that Stoner got quickly up to speed, overtaking the three he had pitted with to sit second behind Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso - who had pitted two laps earlier - by the end of his 'out lap'.

By contrast, Rossi dropped back to sixth and, although he went on to set the fastest lap of the race, on lap 21 of 23, victory was already out of reach and the 30-year-old had to settle for third position, 2sec behind Stoner and 1sec from Lorenzo.

"Of course I am disappointed not to win again in Mugello but seven times in a row is not so bad and the important thing is that I made it onto the podium," said Rossi. "It's a very special moment in Mugello, with all the fans below, and I would have been very sad to have missed that!

"It was a very hard race today and once again the weather was a problem for us, we're very unlucky in these half-and-half races and I think this is my first podium in one."

Rossi's first lap out of the pits on slicks was a 2min 13.483sec - compared with 2min 6.761sec for Stoner and 2min 10.526sec for Lorenzo. Rossi admitted that the front tyre choice had been 'a mistake'.

"In the wet we were very fast because we had found a great setting, but then when we changed bikes we made a mistake and chose a front tyre that was too hard, so it took me a long time to be able to put enough temperature on it and I lost a lot of time," he confirmed.

"At the end I was able to ride better and I knew that I had to make it onto the podium, so I am happy for this."

Rossi was the only rider in the top five to run a hard front tyre, but team manager Davide Brivio defended the decision.

"It is easy to say now that we could have done things differently, but we took a decision before the race based on the characteristics of our bike, on Valentino's riding style and on our experience," said Brivio. "You only know at the end of the race if the decision you took was the right one."

Rossi has now slipped from second to third in the championship, but is still within nine points of new leader Stoner with Lorenzo just five points ahead.

"Of course after Le Mans [where Rossi finished 16th and last] this is a big improvement and these points are important because it's very close between the three of us," said Rossi.

The next best rider to run hard compound slicks front and rear was sixth placed Colin Edwards, whose Tech 3 Yamaha finished 24sec behind Stoner.

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