Madness at Mugello
It had been a good 20 minutes since Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner had stood on the podium to celebrate their top-three finishes in the Italian Grand Prix, but as time passed the crowd beneath it simply grew more voluminous and more vocal.
Eventually, like the Pope addressing his adoring followers from the Vatican balcony, Valentino Rossi emerged and the crowd erupted. As he waved and took a bow the home hero seemed embarrassed by the whole affair, but he knew as well as we did that if he didn't make an appearance the anarchic bonhomie could quickly turn into a full-scale riot.
Moments earlier the final minutes of our network broadcast on BBC Two had already been hijacked as our coveted vantage point on the race director's platform was invaded by pirate punters and over-zealous carabinieri, who were attempting to eject some of our crew and even official MotoGP security staff amidst the confusion.
Having already realised that Steve Parrish would not be able make it through the throng to join me for our usual post-race analysis, I had asked former MotoGP rider Sylvain Guintoli to step in, as he will be doing for another veteran racer in Loris Capirossi at the next two rounds in Germany and the United States.
For his impromptu debut as a pundit I thought Sylvain did brilliantly, especially considering the melee we were surrounded by, which made for some of the most challenging live television I have worked on yet. Our floor manager was being pushed and pulled around while we tried to watch replays on the monitor and I had to step in to help wrestle it back into a position that Sylvain and I could see as the director cut back to us. It may not have made for a slick broadcast but hopefully it kept you entertained and transmitted the sense of chaos of that moment.
Sylvain provided great insight into the racing and into the scenes around us and it was worth having him on if only to hear his brilliant French-Leicestershire accent, which has evolved since meeting his lovely wife Caroline while convalescing at the home of family friends following an injury at Donington Park during his 250cc grand prix days. It's not every day you get to hear a Frenchman say something like "He couldn't do nuffing!"
I stood with him on the pit wall at the start of the race and it was great to see a professional rider get so excited by the buzz of the grid. "I jus' can't believe the noise," he beamed. "Ah miss it, ah really miss it!" 'Guinters', as he is also affectionately known, faded from the MotoGP scene after privateer teams felt the squeeze at the end of 2008. But since then he has fought his way back through the British and World Superbike scene, despite some horrific injuries on the way.
Having ridden the Pramac Ducati GP11 in an official test at Mugello he will now return to the MotoGP grid on the right side of the fence at two of his favourite tracks in the coming weeks. And with the likes of the Marc VDS team - who also rolled out their 1000cc 2012 prototype at the test with Mika Kallio on board - joining a new-look series next year, he is just the kind of experienced rider that new teams will be looking for. The same can be said of John Hopkins, another guest on our show last week at Assen, who will ride a second Suzuki as a wildcard at Brno in August.
As for the actual racing at Mugello, it was nice to have a dry day after the damp and drizzle of Silverstone and Assen and the action was every bit as hot as the 54ºC track temperatures.
Jorge Lorenzo's second victory of the season was a landmark one as it signalled a turnaround in the performance of his YZR-M1 and suggested that the traditionally sweet-handling Yamaha can be an even bigger force at two tight and twisty circuits coming up, in Sachsenring and Laguna Seca.
Lorenzo's ride was one of determination and concentration as he patiently reeled in and passed Stoner at the front with some relentlessly consistent lap times. From lap 15 to 23 he went on a charge, which he described in his online blog as "the return of the hammer" – a reference to his "hammer and butter" approach to riding. It was appropriate because, as I said at the time in my column right here on this website, last year he opted for butter and melted.
Lorenzo celebrates his victory. Photo: AFP
Mugello also proved once again the tiny margins MotoGP deals with - a 23ºC rise in track temperature between Saturday's dry free practice session and Sunday's race led to Stoner suddenly dropping crucial tenths of a second off his lap time as his tyre pressure increased, allowing Lorenzo the opportunity to swoop.
I am also pretty convinced that the world champion's confidence and motivation at Mugello had been given a boost by watching his team-mate Ben Spies take his first MotoGP victory at Assen just a week earlier. For any top-level rider or driver there can be no greater driving force than a successful team-mate and Spies' broken duck is great news for Yamaha, if only because it has proved to Lorenzo that he now has a winning package underneath him and no excuses for failure.
Ben's maiden win is not only a much-needed fillip for Yamaha but for the sport in general. Apart from wet weather wins for Dovizioso, Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi, no other rider has broken the stranglehold of the four "aliens" – Stoner, Lorenzo, Rossi and Dani Pedrosa – on the top step of the podium during the 800cc era, which started in 2007 and ends this year. In fact, the last other dry-race winner was Troy Bayliss at Valencia in a dramatic final round of the 2006 season.
In an extended interview with Ben for our programme in Italy he revealed that, one week on, the magnitude of his achievement had finally started to sink in. It was interesting to hear him say that breaking the mental barrier of defeating the MotoGP elite was more of a relief than the personal accomplishment of winning a premier-class race.
Ben is often portrayed as a very serious character and that is certainly the case when it comes to racing – it has to be. However, it is an image he is quite conscious about and away from the track he is good fun and self-deprecating.
Stoner has also been showing a different side to his public persona on our shows in recent weeks, winding up our pit-lane reporter Azi Farni by deliberately calling her the wrong name in interviews.
After his win at Assen he called her Izzy but, worried that people might have thought it was his Australian accent, this time he made sure there were no misinterpretations and went for Lucy! Casey can also come across as a serious character who fans struggle to warm to, so it was nice to see him drop a little gag into his interview at a moment when he was clearly frustrated and disappointed with the race result.
Mugello was our fourth race in five weeks and after a few days off this coming weekend, we have two more back-to-back races at Sachsenring and Laguna Seca. It is a crucial period of a season that is quickly gathering pace. Thankfully for the championship, so are the Yamahas.