Flammini: "Rookie Rule Is A Gift To World Superbikes"

The atmosphere at the official IRTA tests at Jerez was rather subdued. The global financial crisis has had a palpable impact on the paddock, not least of all the disappearance of the Kawasaki team, now reliant on crates being shipped from place to place, rather than having their own transporter. In an effort to respond to the worsening financial crisis, the FIM and Dorna announced a swathe of measures aimed at cutting costs in the series

The measures announced varied from eminently sensible (adding 2kg to the minimum weights), to currently unnecessary (the ban on variable exhaust systems and composite ceramic brakes, which nobody is using anyway), to the completely pointless (the ban on GPS, which is easy but more expensive to circumvent). But the one rule change that is exercising people the most is the "rookie rule" - a rule which some people are calling the "Ben Spies rule" but which could just as easily be called the Alvaro Bautista rule or the Marco Simoncelli rule. 

Under the proposal - which came from IRTA, which represents the teams, rather than the manufacturers - riders eligible for the Rookie of the Year award (basically anyone doing their first full season of MotoGP) would not be allowed to go straight to a factory team, but would have to spend at least a year on a satellite or private team. The reasoning behind the rule is that this would give the satellite teams a shot at signing riders with the publicity value to attract proper sponsorship. 

Of course, in practice, the rule is likely to work completely differently. As Paolo Scalera of GPOne.com pointed out in the press conference announcing the rule, a factory wishing to sign a big name rookie will simply set up their own "satellite" team, leaving the existing satellite teams in the cold, just as happened when Honda set up the "satellite" Nastro Azzurro team with all of Mick Doohan's former crew for Valentino Rossi in 2000. 

Worryingly, this might even end up as the best-case scenario for MotoGP. Promising young riders such as Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista may decide that if they can't get a factory ride in MotoGP, they'll accept one in World Superbikes instead. With Simoncelli already having tested a World Superbike machine over the winter for Aprilia, this is no flight of fancy. 

And that is certainly the opinion of Paolo Flammini, President of Infront Motor Sports, and the driving force behind the World Superbike series. Speaking to GPOne.com, Flammini said, "I believe that this decision can contribute to making the World Superbike Championship more attractive for young riders." With World Superbike's star rising, who could doubt he is right?



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As I said before, this is the most likley outcome of this rule. In short term, this is likely to be bad. In the longer term, with Moto2 likely being more similar to supersport than 250cc, this will, without question, end MotoGP's monopoly on top talent.

I agree that the implications of the Rookie rule are definitely not the best and I'd like this rule to be buried somewhere dark and forgotten. But I doubt they'll all go to WSBK now. For one, Rookies still want to be paid good and when a MotoGP factory team wants them for the future and gives them a a contract with a great salary and the option to move up after a year, I don't think they'd say no to that. And there are still many talented riders who'd rather stay in MotoGP, even in a satellite team for a year, instead of going to WSBK. Of course that might change with the introduction of Moto2 and especially when the WSBK image continues to go through the roof compared to MotoGP. But right now I doubt WSBK would have a direct advantage of that. Bautista and Simoncelli have both been asked in a recent interview (Solo Moto) whether they would go to Superbike when they don't get a seat in MotoGP and both said they'd prefer to stay in this championship. And as far as I know Ben Spies also still plans on a move to MotoGP next year. As long as the talent is there, I'm convinced the factories will find "solutions" to tie this talent to them this way or another.

There are many riders who have stated they would not move to WSBK and when reality hits them in the face they have swallowed their own words.

Give it time and Motogp will have a hard time keeping up with WSBK.

The rule seems to be aimed at young riders who've yet to make their mark, but are deemed promising. What about older riders who've never ridden MotoGP (or 500s)? Like Troy Corser or Yukio Kagayama or even Mat Mladin? At least one of my examples rode 500s, but you get what I mean. Will older, but very experienced, riders have to play by the same rule? Despite the fact that they won't bring the major sponsorship to the satellilte team that a Ben Spies or a Ryunichi Kyonari would?

Does Ben have large personal sponsors? I can see this impacting any rider from countries that don't currently support their riders with corporate dollars.

If Ben can't go directly to a factory team, then he has to go to a private team. And if he isn't bringing money (either directly or indirectly), he won't get a team.

Something about Nero and Rome springs to mind.