Yamaha's announcement that they would be fielding Ben Spies as a wildcard rider in the final MotoGP round at Valencia saw fans and journalists rushing to their rule books. The MotoGP regulars were mostly on the last of the 5 engines they had been permitted to use in the last 7 races, but how did the engine limit rule affect Ben Spies? Just how many engines did a wildcard rider have? The answer, it turned out, was as many as Yamaha wanted to give him, for the rule book made no mention of wildcards, and therefore wildcard riders could use as many as they liked. In Ben Spies' case, this was basically two - one in each of the two Yamaha M1's he was using, but in theory, he could have popped a fresh engine in every time he went out.
Members of the Grand Prix Commission admitted at the time that it was an anomaly, while pointing out at the same time that it was mostly irrelevant. MotoGP rarely - and tragically - sees wildcard riders take part in races, and so the lack of a rule would have no real effect on the outcome of the championship.
Despite this, at their meeting on Friday, the Grand Prix Commission felt it necessary to create a formal rule to cover wildcard performances, to at least avoid a repeat of the confusion and debate that followed the announcement of Spies' wildcard ride at Valencia. So amidst the 15 pages of new and revised rules that were published on Friday, and covered previously here and here, the question of wildcard riders was finally regulated. The new rules stated:
Each manufacturer is allowed 2 additional engines for the exclusive use of Wild Card riders only.
In other words, each manufacturer can field two bikes for a wildcard rider, but those bikes will have to last the entire season, and be used by all wildcard riders they decide to run. Although aimed at creating a level playing field, it will severely limit the ability of factories to test new engines during the season, as Honda did in 2008 when veteran Tady Okada tested Honda's new pneumatic valve engine at Mugello. This also creates a disincentive to run a wildcard rider early in the season; for example, Suzuki likes to run their test riders at Motegi, but with Motegi scheduled to be the 2nd race of the season, they may prefer to hold off and wait for later on in the year, when they have new parts to test. With in-season testing limited, the options for factories to try out new parts is being limited ever further.