Is IndyCar in Crisis? Could Jorge Martin leave Ducati? When’s Dixon Retiring? – Ask Dre (Jan 2024)

With Honda threatening to quit, is IndyCar in trouble? Should Jorge Martin shockingly leave Ducati? And early season talk in another edition of Ask Dre!

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Read time: 15 mins

Happy New Year everyone! Dre is back at it again with another edition of Ask Dre! In this returning series, you, the fine Motorsport101 Audience ask me your Motorsport-related questions! I even take one question that isn’t about Motorsport, just for shits and giggles. Also note: This is the first time on M101 that this article will have an AUDIO TRACK, so if you prefer, you can have my voice read this article out to you. This will be a feature on all M101 written articles by me going forward. Accessibility matters. On with the questions!

For those who missed it, Chuck Schifsky, Motorsport Manager of American Honda said last month that the series had to find a third manufacturer and cut costs when it comes to supplying engines, or they’ll leave the series when their current deal expires at the end of 2026. Chuck made the reasoning abundantly clear in his statement, that Honda is not getting a return on their investment by supplying 15 cars and its tens of millions of dollars that could be spent elsewhere, like NASCAR, IMSA or even more resources into their F1 power-unit as they officially return to power Aston Martin in 2026. Honda thinks Chevrolet should power the whole grid and let the development battle be over software, rather than hardware. 

I ask (what I think) is a reasonable question here – Why would anyone want to join IndyCar as a supplier right now? This generation of engine has been in use for over a decade, that’s a development gap you’re never going to chase down. It’s going to be expensive with hybrid technology on the horizon for the series as soon as this year. 

And you’re going to have to supply a LOT of cars to make it worthwhile, even if you’re good, which chances are you won’t be for years after you join. Most of the potential suitors are already in series where the engines are cheaper to produce and are far more profitable. Honda powers more than half of IndyCar, including the reigning series Champions and isn’t making money.  What makes you think YOU will?

This is horrible news for IndyCar. It ups the stakes for that third supplier they’ve always chased and their current supply situation isn’t looking good either with further delays to their hybrid bolt-on system, expected to debut in the back half of 2024. It means the hybrid conversion is now two years behind schedule.

And think of the knock-on effect too. It would mean Chevrolet/Ilmor would have to supply the whole grid. And does General Motors want to invest even more money into Motorsport when it’s just taken on a ludicrously expensive F1 Power Unit to develop for 2028? 

The math isn’t mathing here and if you’re IndyCar’s CEO Mark Miles, you’ve got maybe 12 months to figure out a solution or his arse is grass. His legacy as CEO is already under hot water with commercial concerns, a potentially quitting engine supplier when you’ve already failed to get a third in would be catastrophic. He’s confident it won’t get to that point. I’m not sure I can believe him.

Great question, and I think it’s a more interesting predicament than you may think. I think many will read his current situation as: “Why the heck would he want to move away from Ducati?”, but it’s clear Jorge wants that direct line to the factory, even with Pramac over-perfoming in 2023. 

Remember, Pramac won the team’s title at a canter with Enea Bastianini’s compromised season and Martin arguably should have won the title if it wasn’t for his mistakes. I’m not sure Jorge needs that direct factory seat, but it can’t hurt to have it. If Martin’s better than Bastianini in the Italian’s second season in red, the Factory Ducati team would be pressured to make a deal if they want the best team available for 2025. 

But I did find it interesting that Martin threatened to move to Honda this year if he isn’t promoted. There’s faith amongst some in the paddock (And I think that includes Marc Marquez), that Honda will eventually get their shit together again, especially with it being no secret that alarm bells are ringing now the latter is gone. Combine that with the biggest free agency MotoGP’s ever seen in 2024 (Bagnaia, MM93, Espargaro, Maverick, Bagnaia, Martin, Bastianini, Miller and Quartararo could all be on the table), and it makes sense that Martin’s making plays. He could be the #1 name on the board that could move. 

Do I think he leaves? Nah. But having some leverage doesn’t hurt and I don’t think Ducati wants to lose their insurance policy. 

I am still trying to figure this one out. Because they’re not the same and I don’t think the series itself is bringing drivers up their ladder. Sort of. Myles Rowe is a bit of a grey area. He moved up the ladder on track through his results and talent, winning the 2023 USF Pro 2000 title, but it’s no secret that Will Power and Roger Penske, the owner of the series, dropped big cheques to help save his career when he started on the Road to Indy ladder. While I’m delighted the opportunity presented itself to support Myles and save a talented racer from falling out of Motorsport, I’m not sure that’s a privilege everyone in his position will get.

Lindsay Brewer is a 26-year-old part-time model who’s used that money to secure a paying seat with Juncos. Juncos need the cash, they had 5 different drivers in 2023 race their cars due to funding issues. Not to mention, Lindsay was 18th in USF Pro 2000, the tier below Indy NXT in 2023. There’s no way she got this drive on merit. I’m all for women in motorsport and better representation in general. Still, for different reasons, I’m not sure these are the shining examples we should embrace for IndyCar and its diversity. 

What can the FIA take from this? Well, to be honest, I think they’re already doing a decent job of laying the groundwork for improvement. I’ve always said (And the Hamilton Commission report backed this up), you gotta target schools and grassroots first and encourage children to give racing a go. The FIA has the Girls On Track campaign and in 2020, launched its Rising Stars programme, a karting scouting initiative to help get young girls up the ladder. From a UK standpoint, I still think more focused targeting needs to be in place for black people and those of colour because F1’s teams are based in the midlands when most people of colour are based in London, Manchester and Birmingham, but Girls on Track and the F1 Academy are positive steps*. 

*Even if I have issues with some of the drivers taking part. The Al Qubaisi sisters doing over 140 races in an F4 car to me comes off as… unproductive.

Probably? I think too much has to happen for Red Bull to suddenly face significant opposition. Remember, Red Bull was still comfortably the best team in F1 even towards the end of 2023, and they didn’t touch their car after the summer break. Windtunnel restrictions be damned, they went all in on their 2024 car. What the hell is the Red Bull RB20 going to look like, especially with no pseudo-regulation change incoming that’s designed to slow them down? 

I’ll say this, on raw speed, I don’t think McLaren or Ferrari are too far away. We saw glimpses of that in Qatar and Abu Dhabi but both of those rival teams have significant weaknesses they need to address. McLaren’s tyre wear just isn’t as good as the Bulls over longer stints and Ferrari are still painfully slow on harder compounds. And even if they do catch up, have they got the operation all-round excellence that Red Bull has shown? Milton Keynes has the best pit crew in F1, and their strategy department has largely been very good too. These things matter. 

If anyone takes five wins in the year against Red Bull in 2024, that would be a really good sign of progress. But I’m not convinced that’s happening. 

Whenever he damn well pleases! But seriously, the scary thing is, I still think there’s a good two to three more years at the highest level of IndyCar if Dixon wants it. His 2023 would have been a Championship season if it wasn’t for Alex Palou being otherworldly. Remember, Dixon finished that season with three wins in the final four rounds. And that was his Age 43 season. 

Of course, IndyCar drivers seem to keep up their level of performance and will drive longer into their lives than F1 does. Will Power was still pretty competitive at the same age this year. Helio was 45 when he won his fourth Indy 500, but he was probably a bit too slow to justify a full-time seat. Dixon hasn’t shown that same decline yet, and he’s personally said nothing about retiring yet. So I guess we’re all going to have to “wing it”, until either he shows he can’t cut it at that level anymore, or Dixon pulls the plug himself!

I think you need to see if a key domino falls, and that’s what happens at Red Bull. If they choose to move on from Sergio Perez at the end of 2024, who comes in? Do they stick to their usual policy of promoting from within and they go with Tsunoda or Ricciardo? Or do they go out of left field for someone in the midfield? I say that because Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Oscar Piastri and George Russell are theoretically off the table and these are the dudes I think Red Bull would WANT. And if they do keep it in-house, surely Liam Lawson comes in, right?

Further down, can Ferrari and Carlos Sainz strike a new extension? Sainz allegedly wants commitments beyond a 1+1 deal, which I can understand from a personal standpoint given his teammate has gotten unprecedentedly long extensions since joining Ferrari. Sainz could be the best driver on the board if he walks from the prancing horse. 

What happens if the two biggest F2 names on the board, Oli Bearman and Andrea Kimi Antonelli have big seasons? I could see Haas moving on from one of their drivers for Bearman, who’s already had seat time there, and Antonelli could be giving Mercedes a big ol’ headache if they have to loan out another junior who’s going to be a hot commodity.

There are a few more places I’m keeping an eye on. Does Logan Sargeant get a third year? Does Sauber stay with its ultra-conservative lineup beyond 2024 and promote Theo Pourchaire? The funny thing is, I think F1 is as risk-averse as it’s ever been when it comes to driver transfers, but if one big domino falls, two to three more tend to go with it, so it wouldn’t take much to get the ball rolling. It’s going to be a fascinating silly season. 

So I can only borrow one major element of F1 to build my team? Give me arguably F1’s greatest technical mind in Adrian Newey. The man was on Canada’s podium last year to celebrate his 200th win from a car of his design and the RB19 I believe was his 12th title winner. Give him a set of regulations and he will figure it out, so I will build around him. 

If I’m going drivers, and F1 is now off the table, for drivers I’m going to IndyCar, and I think the two best value drivers for the team right now are Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward. They’re not super young – 26 and 24 respectively, but for overall ability combined with potential longevity, that’s the play. Alex Palou is the best driver in the series right now, and no ovals mean his only weakness – Short Ovals, is no longer a factor. I was tempted to pick Josef Newgarden for a more established veteran but I think Pato gives you 98% of his game and he’s eight years younger. A three-tool driver who can win in any format and is fast as hell.

I’m asking Toyota to build my engine. Whenever I’m asked who’d be the one manufacturer I’d want to come back to F1, my go-to answer is them. They were just starting to get the hang of F1 when the money ran out in 2010, I’d love to see them have another go with a little bit of the long-term security blanket that is the cost-cap era. They’ve just dominated the World Endurance Championship and won the Super Formula title. It’s easy to think they’re one of the strongest manufacturers in the world outside of F1. If only NASCAR was firing too…

And team principal? Give me Chip Ganassi. He’s the best in IndyCar right now and had every box ticked for his driving fleet last year. Alex Palou and Scott Dixon were insane, Marcus Ericsson was a perfect #3, and I love the Linus Lundqvist hire to replace him and Marcus Armstrong was a solid part-time rookie. In a spec-series, it’s no coincidence they keep winning. 

Man, you should have seen the look on my face when I read the news that Dieter Rencken was chosen to become F1 Commissioner and has a direct line of reporting to FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem. 

On a basic level, I’m not sure what you gain from putting an experienced journalist in a management position whose goals are to lay out improvements for the series. I get you might have close bonds with those in the paddock, but this is a different level entirely. You’re now the go-between for the sports governing body, whose about as unpopular as they’ve ever been at the moment and the inmates who run the commercial wing’s asylum. Good luck. 

I’m spitballing here, but was Dieter partly responsible for “Wolffghazi” back in December? If so, he’s not off to a good start. And is this another pawn in Ben Sulayem’s seeming gameplan of fucking with F1’s commercial wing? Because 2023 has been messy as hell for FIA/FOM politics and I’m not sure this hire will help in the long run. 

Interesting one this. Albon’s contract is until at least the end of 2024 according to Autosport so I suspect there may be an option for another year in there somewhere (Don’t know if that’s a team or a driver option.) Albon’s made it abundantly clear he feels he can challenge for race wins again, but I doubt Williams – despite their big gains in 2023, is going to get to that kind of position in just 12 months. So is Albon, who is 28 in March, prepared to wait as he enters his prime?

And could someone else make an offer that could tempt him? I think if a team in that Aston-Mercedes-McLaren-Ferrari block makes an offer, I’d be likely to take it if the option was there, but movement there doesn’t seem likely with both Mercedes and McLarens tied down, Leclerc is rumoured to have signed a mega-deal, Alonso almost guaranteed to get an extension with Aston, and Stroll likely unmoveable. 

I fear for Alex, you’re either hoping Sainz jumps ship (And if he does, is Esteban Ocon ahead of him in the queue for a dream move?), or you’re hoping Williams “gets good”.

I will go one month in the inbox without a Marc Marquez question. Maybe that’ll be my New Year’s resolution for the year. Anyway.

I think you have three main options here. Alongside them is the percentage chance I think it’ll happen based on my intuition and vibes…

Option 1 – He stays at Gresini (70%): I think this is by far and away the most likely scenario. Now we know Marquez’s adaption to the Desmondeici went about as well as you could hope, it’s a good sign he’ll be competitive immediately. That’s what Marquez ultimately wants and Gresini last year won in Sprint and GP form. I don’t think he goes any further up the Ducati pecking order because there’s talk that Ducati doesn’t want him too close to the top in case he takes the family silver and shoots off again, maybe as early as next year. 

Option 2 – He goes to KTM (25%): If there ends up being an open race for Marquez’s services next year, KTM will bring a gun to a knife fight. KTM have had no problem throwing tens of millions into this sport, and would likely do so again for a rider of Marquez’s calibre. And remember, the team is Red Bull sponsored, and Marquez is one of Red Bull’s prized elite athletes with an individual deal. I’m almost certain Red Bull would assist in any kind of power play to bring Marc to the Austrian hills. It would be a small step back competitively, but KTM being the #2 bike in the sport right now isn’t a bad landing spot. 

Option 3 – He goes back to Honda (5%): This is your long shot for me, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out. I said in my Season Review that Marc’s Honda departure felt a hell of a lot more like a “goodbye for now” than a goodbye forever. You could tell he really didn’t want to leave that team. Honda is going into 2024 will full guns blazing, a new bike that went over well at the Valencia test and more parts coming from Japan. By all accounts, Marquez leaving might finally be the wake-up call the camp has badly needed. If they can prove they have a competitive package again, Marquez’s love for the Honda camp and his proven success there might be enough to tempt him back. But one year feels too soon. 

I’d love to see Formula 1 at Road America. I think RA is the best track on the IndyCar calendar. It’s fast, got plenty of overtaking opportunities and I think it’s one of the few IndyCar road and street tracks big enough so that F1 cars could conceivably race each other. As you said, grading of tracks aside, I know it would never happen because the amount of money you’d have to throw at it to make it Grade 1 and convince fans to head to Wisconsin for an F1 race would be a hell of a challenge, but its fun to dream. 

IndyCar to F1? I think Bahrain tops the list for me. Bahrain for me is the most under-appreciated track on the F1 calendar and again, I think it’s wide, open, fast and cars can attack and counter-attack around it. I know F1 fans get very nostalgic for the traditional Australian opener, but I think Bahrain’s done a brilliant job of taking the opener honours and consistently producing good racing. So yeah, why not put IndyCar there?

I think a lot of Manchester United’s future will boil down to how much clout Ratcliffe will ultimately have on the football-related decisions. It looks like he’s getting two seats on the board, a chunk of voting rights and his director of football, so that’s promising. 

I know people don’t want to take the easy way out of talking about United’s problems, but it is the obvious answer. It’s the ownership and it starts at the top. The Glazer family are very good at marketing, brand activations and making money for themselves off the clubs’ name and reputation. But they don’t know how to run a football club. The last 10 years of the club’s history have shown that. 

From big-name managers that haven’t worked out, to throwing over a billion pounds at transfers that largely have been failures. That vicious cycle of bringing a new manager in, having short-term success, only for the players to lose faith once they plateau in the Champions League spots, only to reset again is all too painful. We’re likely due another one soon. I already suspect manager Erik Ten Hag is losing the locker room and the players are phoning it in thinking another new manager is coming in the summer.

In any case, I like what Ratcliffe is saying initially. A $300m commitment to improving Old Trafford (Which didn’t get picked for a Euros stadium, which kinda says it all about the state of the place) is welcome news. Continued financial support to the women’s team is good. And by all accounts, the INEOS sports group are calling the shots. Now, their overall sporting record is a little hit-and-miss, but I’m glad the sporting decisions are being taken out of the Glazer’s hands. 

Fans of the club need to be patient. It’s going to be six to eight weeks before the purchase is even fully approved so don’t expect shockwaves in January and its respective transfer window. And I think it could be a good year or two before we see meaningful change in full flow (See Newcastle after Mike Ashley was finally bought out.) Success likely won’t be immediate as United have a lot of squad management issues they need to address (Varane, Casemiro, Greenwood, Antony, etc.), but I can understand the optimism. Expectations need to be grounded though.

And that’ll do it for Ask Dre! I’m going to be making this a monthly feature on Motorsport101 going forward, so keep your eyes peeled on X for when I ask for questions! And don’t worry if you didn’t make the cut this time around, sometimes, I’ll save questions for months where they’re more relevant, like seasonal previews. Thanks for reading, and see you in February!

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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