RETURN OF MOTOGP ROOKIE RULE ‘NOT REALISTIC’
MotoGP is enjoying a golden era of factory participation, with official manufacturer entries doubling from three to six in the space of just two seasons.
The return of Suzuki and Aprilia alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, plus the new KTM project is a resounding vote of confidence for the sport as a whole.
Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis believes fans and riders are the main beneficiaries, but warned it could also make life more difficult for satellite teams.
“Having more manufacturers is a really positive thing. I think the riders and the fans will be the big beneficiaries,” Jarvis said. “The fans because there will be a better show, more brands to follow and in general I think it pumps up the price of riders.
“In the past if you wanted to get a factory ride there were only six spots available. Now there are twelve. It probably won’t affect the price of the top riders so much, but I think it will make it very hard for the satellite teams to capture and keep young talent because factories generally have more money than satellite teams.”I think that is going to be the biggest, most critical thing. But I think the top talent will still gravitate to the most-winning teams and there will be two or three of those. That won’t change.”
From 2010 until the end of 2012 a ‘rookie rule’ existed, which prevented a premier-class newcomer from spending their first season at a factory team. The aim was to help the satellite teams by giving them at least one season with the hottest rising stars.
Ultimately Yamaha was the only manufacturer affected by the rule, World Superbike champion Ben Spies spending a season at Tech 3 before joining the factory Yamaha squad. Suzuki gained an exemption for Alvaro Bautista since they didn’t have a satellite entry.
But the rookie rule had unforeseen consequences and, to the suspicion of many, was dropped just in time for Marc Marquez to join the premier-class with Repsol Honda in 2013.
The argument for removing the rule was that, while HRC had a vacancy to fill following the retirement of Casey Stoner, the satellite Honda teams were happy to retain their existing riders. The customer teams were also said to be wary of having to ditch some of their sponsors (and mechanics) to accommodate Marquez and his crew for a single season.
Despite acknowledging that life will get harder for the satellite teams in terms of securing top riders, Jarvis doesn’t think reinstating the rookie rule is ‘realistic’.
“We can either call it the Livio rule or the Marquez rule…!” smiled the Englishman.
“Also the Quartararo rule!” quipped HRC team manager Livio Suppo, referring to a lowering of the Moto3 minimum age, which allowed the French youngster to race the whole 2015 season.
“It’s difficult to force things in my opinion,” Jarvis continued. “I think that the previous rule was good at that time. But now, with so many factories, it would be restrictive to force a rider to not take one of the twelve factory contracts available.
“So I think when times change, you have to also change the way of doing things. I don’t see it being realistic to re-impose the rookie rule.”
It remains to be seen if the satellite teams will actually need any special assistance.
While some riders – such as Tech 3 and Pramac – felt the gap to the factories increased in 2016, the first year of the single ECU and Michelin tyres, the season nonetheless saw the first non-factory winners since 2006. Those came courtesy of Honda riders Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, among a record nine different winners.
The increasing number of victorious factories – Ducati and Suzuki broke a monopoly held by Honda and Yamaha since 2010 – could also mean that the established factories find they have a harder time keeping hold of top talent.
“For sure it will be more difficult [for a manufacturer to keep a top rider], but it is good for the sport,” said the Italian. “In the end this season, nine different riders winning and four different manufacturers, has been special.
“I think it is a big plus for MotoGP and if it means we will have to switch riders more often, it is a problem for us but good for the sport.”
That process may have already begun, with Honda the only factory with an unchanged rider line-up in 2017.