The first part of the 2010 MotoGP rookie puzzle fell into place today at Assen. In a press conference, Fausto Gresini, owner of the eponymous MotoGP team announced that Marco Simoncelli had signed a one-year deal with the team for 2010. Gresini will have one factory RC212V again next year, and Marco Simoncelli must be the odds-on favorite to get that ride. But the competition will be fierce, as Gresini is also said to be pursuing Marco Melandri, while Spanish rider Hector Barbera is believed to be chasing the Gresini Honda rider.
While Simoncelli's talent is undeniable, the press release also highlighted another aspect of the young Italian. Simoncelli is highly marketable in Italy, and the Simoncelli deal was announced together with the extension of Gresini's deal with Italian snack manufacturer San Carlo, who will be staying with the team for 2010 as well. "Marco has shown over the past couple of years that he has the ability to be a major force in the premier class, as well as being a great communicator," Gresini said. Simoncelli's bubbly personality and outlandish hairdo make the Italian instantly recognizable and a huge hit with the fans.
Gresini also underlined that Honda also had a hand in the deal. "Honda rates Simoncelli highly, and believes he is a rider with great potential for the future, so Honda is very pleased that we are welcoming Simoncelli next season," Gresini said. With the so-called rookie rule preventing class newcomers from joining a factory team in their first year, the factories are having to find more indirect ways of securing the services of promising rookies.
The Simoncelli signing is the first indication of how this will work, with Honda supporting Gresini's bid for the rider. It also vindicates the reasoning behind the rule, with San Carlo quite explicit about their reasons for extending their sponsorship deal with Gresini: "Sponsorship decisions, besides the sports facts, are also about the people who make the team," Alberto Vitaloni of the San Carlo company said.
However, the danger remains that satellite teams will be forced to surrender at least some control to the factories as a result of the rule. The major manufacturers are likely to become ever more instrumental in signing riders to teams, and may even decide at some point that it's better to take control of the satellite teams entirely. The rookie rule will benefit the satellite teams in the short term, but it may prove to be a Faustian bargain in the long term.