Valentino Rossi says he is swapping one 'very strong' team-mate for another, with official confirmation that Maverick Vinales is to replace departing champion Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo is joining Ducati, while rising star Vinales currently races for Suzuki, where he claimed his first rostrum last time at Le Mans.
“I think it will be very hard because Maverick is so strong, so young, with a great potential,” Rossi said on Thursday at Mugello. “So arrive another very strong team-mate.”
Rossi was unbeaten at his home Italian grand prix from 2002-2008, but hasn't finished higher than third place since.
“Mugello is always a very special weekend, special race, because from the first year in the world championship the Italian grand prix has been at this track. The track is fantastic, one of the best, and the atmosphere is always good,” he said.
“So we have to try to be strong because in the last years I was never fast enough to fight for the victory and also for have a good qualifying so we try this year to be stronger from tomorrow. And we hope also for good weather, because today is very bad.”
Rossi is currently third in the world championship, but just twelve points from Lorenzo with Honda's Marc Marquez in-between. Rossi and Lorenzo have been Yamaha team-mates from 2008-2010, then 2013-2016.
Opening practice takes place on Friday morning.