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?