Dre’s F1 Calendar, Japan’s MotoGP Struggles – #AskDre February 2024

Dre crafts his own F1 Calendar, is Formula E in trouble, and is Taylor Swift’s Chiefs winning the Superbowl? #AskDre returns for February 2024!

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Read time: 11 mins

Right, time to crack open the mailbag for another monthly edition of #AskDre! In this series you the wonderful M101 audience tag me on Twitter and ask me your Motorsport-related questions from F1, MotoGP, IndyCar, and Formula E, and maybe even the odd non-Motorsport question too! So let’s get right into it and get into another round of your questions!

I’m not sure we’re in panic stations here yet, but I am concerned that Formula E has this horrible knack of tripping over its own feet. There’s a reason we didn’t review Diriyah’s double header here on Motorsport101 – We couldn’t justify it, as next to nothing happened. Race 1 had Jake Dennis run away as Jean-Eric Vergne and Mitch Evans played a 130mph game of chicken, and Race 2 had Nick Cassidy try to break the field, couldn’t, and then we had New Jersey traffic for 20 minutes. 

The series has problems. On the track, it’s what I was saying last year on M101 – I think the 3rd Generation of Formula E car has outgrown the majority of the tracks it’s racing on. I think the cars lack the grip thanks to Hankook’s imitation concrete tyres and the cars are too fast for the smaller technical circuits to pass around without taking enormous risks like Evans tried to do in Diriyah. Maybe this is a problem that can be solved when the series goes to faster tracks in future, but that adds another issue. The series looks like it’s growing into an identity crisis.

Formula E’s unique selling point from its inception focused on racing on street tracks and bringing the racing to the people, making elite-level Motorsport more accessible in the cities. 10 years later, it now has four full-blown road courses on its calendar (Misano and Shanghai joining Portland and Mexico City). Given there are also six doubleheaders, it makes me think that the series is struggling to find places to race. 

And of course, I’ve been very vocal lately on the lack of a free-to-air TV deal in the UK, one of its strongest markets and where many of the teams are based. They’ve done the rounds across every F2A network from Day 1, but now you’ve got to justify fans paying £30($38) a month for the same live coverage they got for free eight months ago. MotoGP went down this road in the UK 10 years ago and it’s never recovered because there are roughly 80-90% fewer eyes on the sport than there was in the “Alien Era”. And MotoGP has had three generations of history and fandom behind it. Formula E doesn’t have that luxury. 

And deep down, I think the series knows that. It’s thrown bucketloads of cash to try and get younger viewers in. From collaborations with the Sidemen to sticking Chunkz in a go-kart, to throwing five-figure fees to Gen-Z influencers to make their races look cool on Instagram. It’s weird and I’m not sure any of it is working. See that Offset video I embedded? It’s been up for a year and it has 6,000 views.

At the end of the day, I don’t have their balance sheets, so I can’t tell you the financial health of the series. And my gut tells me they’d probably need a few more factories to quit before they’re really in trouble. But is the series shooting itself in the foot to a degree? I think so. 

Short answer? Shady as shit. And to be fair to F1, it’s not the only guilty party in this. Almost everyone in all rich walks of life tried a quick grift with either “funny money” as I like to call it, NFTs or both. FTX was a Mercedes sponsor and art cars were made into NFTs before Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested. Binance was on the Alpines before their collapse and others hopped on the crypto wagon too. The wild west of money management. MotoGP did too, and football clubs are still at it with their “FanTokens”. As a Manchester United and Inter Milan fan, seeing them prop these up regularly made my eyes roll. 

But this is the unfortunate nature of being an F1 team. Unless you have a proprietary product to sell where you can accept a degree of loss-making via marketing clout like Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari can, you’re in it to survive rather than thrive and the funny money guys were offering quick cash from out-of-nowhere, away from conventional sponsorships and promised huge potential. I get the appeal, but I’m astonished by the overall lack of due diligence. 

When I was younger, it was the pyramid schemes. Very nearly bought into one from a pair of old high school friends who made a very compelling argument. So it’s no wonder a bunch of high-profile people who really ought to know better bought the con too. I think Tom Brady’s still trying to figure out where his $30m investment went… 

IndyCar doesn’t have the luxury to be fussy about this. They should be taking anyone prepared to invest. But I think you’re approaching this from the wrong angle my friend. It shouldn’t be IndyCar chasing that third supplier. I think the series needs to focus on what it can do to make its current development cheaper. Honda gave the game away when they recently talked about potentially leaving, they want the engine war between themselves and Chevrolet to be based on software and not hardware.

It doesn’t help that the move to hybrids has been nothing but frustration for everyone involved. Two years late, still no guaranteed debut date and a lot of added expense when manufacturers have invested their engines into series with better returns like IMSA and WEC. Did the series ever truly need hybrid power units in the first place? And if you’re new, how long is it going to take to bridge the gap? We saw what happened with Lotus after all. 

Don’t think it’s a matter of IndyCar picking who it wants. I think it’s a matter of bending over backwards to see who it can convince it’s worth the plunge. 

Okay, I’ve had some degree of variation on this question for ages and I’ve put it off for long enough. Let’s tackle it. 

First and foremost, I’m trying to keep this semi-realistic in terms of trying to please everyone. This is NOT an easy task. You have to take on board that F1 has a 24-race calendar now because it wants to make as much money as possible. You want to try and cut down on travel and emissions where you can. And ideally, you don’t want people quitting out of burnout either. So, I’ve tried to put together a reasonably diverse 20-RACE calendar that I think covers most of the major boxes to tick. I’ve not gone into dates because that’s ultra-pedantic but here’s the basic structure:

Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Canada, USA (COTA), South Africa, Monaco, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Britain, Hungary, France, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, China, USA (Indy), Brazil

Now, I’m going to try and explain a lot of my choices (and non-choices) here:

You could easily swap Bahrain or Australia as openers if you wanted. I like Bahrain and the racing it provides regularly and for me, it’s earned its slot as an opener. You could flip them either way between them and the traditional Australian opener and I’d have no complaints.

Malaysia is back, as I always think F1 had a good home in Sepang. It’s a great Motorsport country (especially with two wheels), and I get the feeling it’s a good fan favourite. And now it has floodlights, you could even make it a night race and a bit more European friendly if you like. I like the recent move with F1 moving Japan back up to April to avoid Typhoon season in the country, so it can stay there. 

Yes, we’re going to keep pandering to the Americans, but we’re going to push hard to give them more of what they want by giving them two GPs at their big-boy tracks. COTA has become one of the genuinely great all-around tracks on the calendar and pulls a huge weekend attendance, and I think it’s time F1 sits down with Roger Penske and thrases out an end-of-year race at Indianapolis towards the back end of the Summer. Who says no?

Yes, it’s about time F1 raced in Africa again, so Kyalami is now a small detour on the European block, and we’re also going back to the European hitters of Germany (I love Hockenheim, sue me), and France, the true home of Grand Prix Racing. Yes, Paul Ricard is a bit of a stinker, but I don’t think anything else in France is viable. I think France ought to be protected. (You’re welcome, Ryan King)

China is also back on the calendar but more towards its original home towards the end of the season because I didn’t want it to clash with Sepang being VERY similar in terms of timings, track layout and optics. Yes, there’s no Spanish round because I’m bored of Catalunya’s misery and there isn’t a viable alternative. (No, you’re not going to Aragon, don’t pretend you are.) Instead, we brought back Portimao in Portugal. They’ll celebrate by opening another golf course in the area. And yes, Brazil is back as the finale. Asia caught some strays here. Yes, it got Malaysia back, but it lost Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. Oh no. Anyway. 

Welcome aboard Wes! Glad you could join us! It’s an interesting time to be a MotoGP with the more F1-esque aero era going on right now, and I have to admit, the overall quality of the racing has taken a bit of a hit, but there’s still a handful of past and present recommendations I have for you!

For the overall era, you can’t go wrong with anything between 2008-2013. I think that’s the peak of the “Alien Era” where Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and at the very end, Marc Marquez comes into play. These were the five to six best riders in the world, going head to head every single week, but if you want me to narrow it down, here are some of my favourite races of modern times:

Jerez 2005 – The race that wrote the rulebook on the ethics of MotoGP combat. Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau and that ending.

Estoril 2006 – Five men enter that weekend with a shot at the title with two races to go, but it’s the surprise of customer riders Toni Elias and Kenny Roberts Jr that play the role of antagonist with a shocking early flashpoint.

Philip Island 2015/17 – Australia for me is the gold standard of MotoGP races and 2015 and 2017 are two of the best MotoGP races ever for me. 2015’s heated clash between Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi and Iannone, and then 2017 was a bar fight where a bike race broke out at the end. Two classics.

Catalunya 2009 – The pass. I’ll say nothing more.

Styria 2021 – Is that rain with five laps to go?

Buriram 2023 – And if you want a modern classic, Jorge Martin vs Brad Binder and Francesco Bagnaia in Thailand is proof great racing is still possible even with the winglets. 

Probably another few years left in this. I reckon. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts I’m sure but my overall impression is that Japan were 2-3 years behind Ducati on the 8-ball when it came to aerodynamics. 

Ducati shocked the world when those hammerhead winglets rolled up and when the sport decided to let them have it, Japan just bolted on aero to their bikes and didn’t know how to work with them, while Ducati were developing their bikes with that in mind. And Europe has been faster to react and look for innovation. Aprilia’s got aero rakes in Speang’s test right now.

KTM was testing out a new carbon-fibre chassis at the back end of 2023. Japan’s coasted on their reputation for a little while now and as a direct result, Suzuki’s dead and Honda and Yamaha are scrambling to try and close the gap, don’t know HOW to, and might lose all their elite riders as a direct result, another way they’re going to lose out in this development war.

Ducati holds all the aces, and KTM and Aprilia are leading the chase. The Japanese manufacturers might have to tear the whole thing down and start over before we get to the next major regulation change in 2027. That might be where we see a fresh start for the sport as a whole.

I think there are three definites for the MotoGP title, and three “maybes”. The definites for me are reigning Champion Francesco Bagnaia, Jorge Martin and Marc Marquez. The three maybes are Brad Binder, Marco Bezzecchi and Enea Bastianini. 

What I find interesting about this is that Francesco Bagnaia’s a 23/10 SECOND favourite to win the title despite being the reigning Double Champion and has been awesome for the last two years now. Jorge Martin arguably should have been right there with him in 2023 and fumbled his bag in the process. And then there’s Marc Marquez, who everyone is confident will adapt to the Ducati reasonably quickly. (The fact he’s solidly mid-table after two days in Sepang is promising, the bookies agree, it’s why he’s an even money favourite.)

Beyond that, Marco Bezzecchi has sensational upside but I need to see more before I start believing he’s a genuine contender. Brad Binder is fast as hell but hasn’t won a Grand Prix in nearly three years now and KTM needs to give him a little bit more. And I want to see what Enea Bastianini can do with a full off-season under his belt, if he’s at his 2022 pace, then he’ll be a threat for sure. 

Those for me are the Big 6. As for the first Marquez dub… Optimally, COTA would be ideal as he’s so dominant around there, but the Sachsenring seems a better fit for me realistically. 

Ooo, tough one here. I think the 49ers have the better roster overall, and their skill position players of Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffery and Brendon Aiyuk are going to give Kansas a real headache. But that Kansas unit has gotten better and better as the season’s gone on and they just kept one of the best regular season teams ever in the Baltimore Ravens to 10-points. Patrick Mahomes has worked miracles with a really limited offensive core, but Travis Kelce has had a great post-season and is taking some of the pressure off. If Kansas can get Isiah Pacheco going, it’s going to be a great matchup. 

…I think Kansas takes it 28-20. May the Swifties sing into the night. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here for some season previews. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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