With the MotoGP paddock reconvened at Mugello - and it really is a stunning setting for a motorcycle race - the atmosphere is hectic and frenzied, and it's only just Thursday. There are many reasons for that atmosphere, but mostly, it comes down to two key facts: 1) We're in Italy, and 2) We're at Mugello.
Being in Italy means that some riders are on double duty, with Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso doing their usual press debriefs in addition to appearing at the press conference. The usual Thursday pre-event press conference was positively heaving, the room packed to the rafters and all seats taken, a change from most other Thursday conferences. It's not just that every Italian newspaper has sent extra journalists to the round, but journalists from around the world are seizing the opportunity to attend one of the most spectacular races of the year, and follow it up with a few days in Tuscany.
It's not just journalists either: the teams are in the same position. One team representative said they had ten times the number of guests here that they have at other races, sponsors grabbing their chance to spend a long weekend in Tuscany, and enjoying the food and wine the region is rightly famous for.
The spark of that frenzy seems to have jumped from the press to the riders too, as the atmosphere has been surprisingly fiery among the MotoGP men too. Jorge Lorenzo kicked off the daily round of briefings, facing a grilling from the Italian and Spanish press. He spent most of that time trying to calm the Italian and Spanish press down, refusing to be drawn into making rash statements about his rivalry with Valentino Rossi. He fielded question after question, coming up with the same answer: "Mugello is not just a duel between Valentino and me. Many things could happen."
The one moment that did draw a strong reaction was when an Italian journalist asked him about a blog post by Marco Melandri, in which the Gresini Honda rider dissected Lorenzo's celebration at Le Mans. Melandri was convinced that this was all a metaphor, that the yellow chair that Lorenzo sat on to watch the big screen symbolized his taking over the seat of Rossi, usurping the reigning world champion's position. Lorenzo demolished that argument swiftly and concisely, with just a few words. "Everyone said the char was yellow, but I thought the chair was green. Maybe I have a problem with my eyes."
Casey Stoner's debrief was similar, the Marlboro Ducati rider finding a hundred ways to say the same thing: The team still doesn't know why Stoner keeps losing the front. There were no clues in the data, the Australian explained, no repeatable pattern, no factors which recurred in every crash. He simply lost the front without warning, and was unable to catch it and save it. Giving an insight into just how close to the edge these riders are at. "We lose the front all the time," Stoner explained, "the top riders in the class will always be losing the front and picking the bike up. It's normal, it's how we find out where we are." The problem was that he had not been able to catch the bike at all.
All attempts to remedy the situation had failed, putting more weight on the front, putting less weight on the front, nothing had worked. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the problems simply don't occur during practice, the bike showing signs of losing the front, but Stoner always able to catch it. The only common factor that the team had identified was that the crashes were happening just after Stoner released the brake, but before getting the power back on. At that point the bike is neutral, with little going on, and this was what was most surprising.
The one thing the team had yet to try was to revert to the front forks that Stoner had used last season. The new forks were the only part of the chassis which had changed since last year, the other big change being the engine. Stoner is to test the 2009 forks at Mugello, to see if that will solve his problem.
Nicky Hayden was perfectly happy with the 2010 forks, saying they had worked fine for him. Hayden has also had issues with the front, but nowhere near as severe - or dramatic - as Casey Stoner. For Hayden, there was no need to make the change.
Hayden is bullish on his chances at Mugello, coming here hoping to wipe his slate clean after a miserable result in 2009. Echoing the sentiments of every other rider, Hayden praised the special atmosphere at Mugello, and acknowledged the pressure that riding a Ducati just a few miles from the factory brings. He reiterated that the difference in results from last year were not down to a single factor. "People want to hear that it's one miraculous thing that gets you from the back to the front, but it's not that easy," Hayden elucidated. "It's the complete package: the engine, the chassis, the team."
Andrea Dovizioso was similarly energized by racing in front of his home crowd. He was equally energized by his position, leading teammate Dani Pedrosa in the championship. But Honda also faces problems, Dovi echoing Pedrosa's complaints about the power delivery of the RC212V. The engine testing limits did not help in this regard, the Repsol Honda rider explained. "We need to change some of the characteristics, but it's difficult, because we do not have many days to test." This is especially difficult for engines, Dovizioso said: "You need to do a lot of miles, and that is not easy. Honda has the possibility to make one new engine, but with these rules, it's not so easy."
Marco Melandri also came up in Andrea Dovizioso's debrief. When asked about Melandri's improvement since returning to Showa suspension, and making changes to the chassis. "It's a difficult situation. Nobody has been fast with Honda, because Honda has some problems, everybody understands that. The situation of Melandri, I think he wants some changes to do better, but we have already tried. We already have experience of that, and I don't think that is the right way."
The rider with the biggest pressure at Mugello is surely Valentino Rossi. The Fiat Yamaha rider has an astonishing record at the Italian track, having won here an astonishing 7 times in his 10 MotoGP races. But Rossi's shoulder is worse than expected, taking longer to recover than the Italian had hoped. Rossi still has pain in the right shoulder he dislocated in a motocross accident, the injury taking longer to heal than he hoped.
"The good thing is that now we understand the situation, because always with Dr Costa, we need the time," Rossi quipped, "but unfortunately in the accident I damaged the cartilage, so the shoulder is not 100% stable." Rossi is likely to be stuck with the problem for a while, and it may even require surgery at the end of the year. "Normally it would take three to four months to recover from this injury, and now it is a month and a half," Rossi said, "I need to work very hard to improve the muscles to keep the shoulder stable, to improve the strength when I ride the bike. If it's not possible, then at the end of the season, we will have surgery."
The problem was the lack of progress since Jerez. "One week after Jerez, the situation became stable," Rossi explained, "and the shoulder has not improved very much since then. When I wake up in the morning, I have a big, big pain for an hour and a half, two hours." In ordinary situations, the shoulder is fine, the problem is when Rossi tries to ride a bike. With six races in eight weeks, this problem could turn out to be decisive for the rest of the season.