It is hard to overestimate the importance of this weekend's Italian MotoGP for Valentino Rossi and Ducati.

The seven-time MotoGP champion will be competing in his first home as a home Ducati rider, at a track where he suffered his most serious injury of his career.

Rossi won at Mugello for seven successive seasons from 2002-2008, before being beaten to third in 2009 and then breaking his leg in practice for the 2010 event.

The Doctor returns with just one podium from his first seven races for Ducati, during what is now his longest losing steak since joining MotoGP - Rossi's last victory having been at Malaysia 2010, a space of ten races.

But there is reason for optimism ahead of Mugello.

Fourth on his race debut with the new GP11.1 last Saturday at Assen, Rossi has previous testing knowledge of both the 11.1's chassis and Mugello's new racing surface.

That was with the 2012 engine - which could have been as large as 1000cc, or as small as, say, 900cc. Maybe smaller.

Ducati, like all manufacturers, is yet to confirm it will utilise the full 1000cc capacity available due to the fuel restrictions and experimenting with several engine sizes would hardly be surprising.

"We've ridden there with the GP12, but because our bike is an 800, it responds a little differently to adjustments, and it's also in its first phase of development," said Rossi of his private Mugello tests on the 2012 bike.

"It will be vital to quickly find the right path for the setup, as it's important that we improve in every session in order to qualify in a good position."

In the past, Rossi has proven more than capable of rising to the occasion for his fanatical home fans and - even without crew chief Jerry Burgess (see separate story) - the 32-year-old knows Italy and Ducati will be desperate for at least a podium challenge on Sunday.

"The track is one of my favourites, and I've always done pretty well there," Rossi continued.

"Returning after last year's accident is no problem for me, because I enjoyed riding there during the recent tests, as I always do.

"I hope there will be a big crowd and that I'll be able to do better than we've managed until now, because this is a very important race," he admitted.

Rossi is fourth in the world championship with a best race finish of third, at Le Mans.