If Valentino Rossi fails to finish on the podium in front of his home fans at Mugello this weekend, it will match his longest rostrum absence as a Yamaha MotoGP rider.

That came in 2007, when Rossi went four successive races without a podium on an underperforming - and at times unreliable - first version of the 800cc M1.

Returning to Yamaha after two poor seasons at Ducati, Rossi began this season in style with second place at Qatar, but hasn't been able to repeat that fighting form in the three races since.

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"After the first race in Qatar that was very good for me, I've been struggling a bit much; we expected to be stronger, especially at Jerez and at Le Mans, in the dry. In the wet I was not so bad but I made a mistake and threw away the chance of a good result," said Rossi at Mugello on Thursday.

"We have work to do, we need to increase my speed and my potential - which I think we can do. Especially Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa are very strong, but also Cal [Crutchlow] is very fast.

"Now in MotoGP you need to be at 100% in all practices and arrive on Sunday afternoon at more than 100%, if you want to stay in front from the first lap to the last. So it is a hard job for everybody, but it is also the same for everybody and we have to try."

But Rossi, whose seventh and most recent title came in 2009, denied that the level of the riders at the front of MotoGP has gone up in recent years.

"For me it is not right to speak about 'another level' - it is different," he explained. "Young riders are stronger for sure. They are the 'next model'. When an old car exits, the next model is always better.

"Also the way to ride the bike has changed a lot in recent years. Now you need to do different tricks on the bike that for an 'old rider' like me are difficult," he smiled.

Asked about those tricks, Rossi added: "Especially the tyres. When the single tyre rule arrived [in 2008], from that moment the Bridgestone tyres are different and have less grip at the very edge. So you have to try to use acceleration in the traction area more than in the past."

Rossi is the most successful rider at Mugello, winning nine times in all classes including seven successive premier-class victories from 2002 to 2008.

"This weekend is something special but not only for the Italian riders - the atmosphere, all the crowd around the track! It was already special back in 1996 for my first Italian Grand Prix. We all have extra motivation to be up at the front."

Rossi starts round five holding fifth in the world championship and behind fellow M1 riders Jorge Lorenzo (third) and Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow (fourth). Repsol Honda team-mates Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez lead the standings.

The last time Rossi stood on the Mugello podium was 2009, having broken his leg during practice for the 2010 event The Italian legend then finished sixth and fifth during his two Ducati appearances.