Why Hamilton Won’t And Shouldn’t Be MotoGP’s Cultural Savior

With rumours abound that Lewis Hamilton may be in talks to buy Gresini’s MotoGP Team, Dre talks about why this isn’t a good idea for many, unserious reasons.

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Read time: 6 mins

“Delete As Appropriate.”

As soon as murmurs of this story dropped, I could see a whole load of people in MotoGP circles rubbing their hands like Birdman at the very thought. The story? Lewis Hamilton might be interested in buying Gresini’s MotoGP team, the team that currency runs the Marquez brothers, and 10 World Championships between them.

It’s hard not to be suckered in by the prospect. Hamilton’s always been a MotoGP fan. He’s close friends with Valentino Rossi, the only other transcendent star currently in Motorsport’s niche domain. He gushed at Marc Marquez going to Ducati Corse last month. Hamilton himself has expanded into different walks of life beyond F1, like charity work, the growing non-alcoholic industry, fashion, and music, and partly owning the Denver Broncos. And with rumors that the price tag on Gresini isn’t substantial (barely eight figures), Lewis putting together a potential consortium out of his partnerships like Monster Energy or Mercedes would be easy and potentially attractive.

But the more I’ve sat down and thought about it, the less sense this makes. Both on and off the track.

First of all, Hamilton’s just another big name that’s recently got on the wagon of celebrity sports franchises. The latest trend has seen these celebrities buy a very small percentage of a team (Likely fractions of a percent), at a discount rate, in exchange for perks, some influence and some party favours. The franchise gets that big name via association and some free posts on their social timelines, the celebrity gets a small chunk of investment they got on “mates rates” that they can sell at almost a guaranteed profit in exchange for a handful of appearances a year. It’s a lower-risk and lower-effort version of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s Wrexham purchase. 

But here’s the thing… besides the obvious example of said Welsh club (And ignoring the huge clout the accompanying docuseries has generated), where else has this worked? Tom Brady isn’t sitting in the stands at Birmingham City every week and their club is hardly raking in the big bucks. If you’re a Hamilton fan, do you now support the Denver Broncos? If you do, man I’m sorry. And we have the most recent example in Motorsport just last year. 

Alpine sold 24% of their team for 200 million euros in cash, to a fleet of celebrity part-owners. Boxing’s Anthony Joshua, Kansas City Chiefs superstars Patrick Mahomes and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, golfer Rory McIlroy, Liverpool Right Back Midfielder Trent-Alexander Arnold. It’s a list that reads more like a Top Trumps deck, and yet, is Alpine worth any more with their presence besides a couple of PR appearances at a US race, or Travis wearing an Alpine cap on his Podcast? Alpine’s chunk was valuing the team at just over 800m, if it’s any higher since then, it’s the rise in F1 as an overall sporting entity raking in the cash, not because AJ’s about to fight Daniel Dubois. 

So, are we so sure Lewis Hamilton’s suddenly going to make people MotoGP fans? It’s a sport that’s just as expensive to watch legally in the UK as it is for F1. A lot of Motorsport fans either don’t care about it or refuse to watch because of the even higher inherent danger. And if this were to happen, how much influence could Lewis have as a team owner, largely sitting around the paddock, and a team without the biggest rider in the sport going via Marc Marquez?

The only recent example where this has worked has been Valentino Rossi’s new career in Sportscars, where we’ve seen big turnouts to see him in the GT World Challenge and recently at Le Mans, where The Doctor was mobbed by thousands of fans in the Autograph sessions. And he’s actually driving, Lewis is just going to be standing in the back. And with Lewis still set to be an active driver for at least another two years, we’re not going to be seeing him in MotoGP’s paddock very often for a while given the amount of crossover weekends between the two series.

So already, I’m not convinced this is as big an opportunity for Lewis as some think,. And then there’s the even more hopeful side of people’s thinking on this. The push for positive change. It’s an admirable one certainly, but again, I have doubts, especially given today’s social media faux pas from the team he’s thinking about buying. More on that in a bit.

Hamilton has genuinely made a tangible difference in how F1 is looking at diversity and inclusion. He alongside Sebastian Vettel were the big pushers for representation amongst the Black community during the BLM movement, as well as Seb being an ally for the LGBT+ community. Their pushes influence the sport’s brief “We Race as One” diversity drive, and today as I write this, F1 has come together with Lewis’ own Mission 44 charity in a new collaboration to encourage young people to get involved in STEM subjects and opportunities. The sport as a whole is showing an active, conscious effort to make meaningful change. I’m as sceptical as hell about it given their track record, but it’s something.

We’d have to wait and see if Hamilton just being directly involved in MotoGP would prompt a similar change, but the fact it would take something like for the sport to do it saddens me. For one, MotoGP has made no secret of stealing F1’s homework as it too tries to figure out how to make gains in a niche sporting landscape, with Sprint races, docuseries attempts and social media handshake agreements. 

And second of all, Lewis Hamilton has done more than his fair share in trying to leave Motorsport in a better place than when he entered it. We have got to use him as inspiration to push for more ourselves, not pull him in 15 different directions to solve all of Motorsport’s problems. This was no different to when I saw people asking him to save the W Series when it was wound up in 2022. We know what he represents, and most of us are inspired and love it, but only in a vacuum and not enough to make the important people in other series follow his lead. 

If we got that dream scenario of Lewis being involved in MotoGP as a team owner, his work would be cut out. Bike racing doesn’t have the same initiatives that F1 does. Its paddock is criminally undiverse, to even worse proportions than F1 is. When I covered the British GP at Silverstone last year, I was startled to see the lack of people of colour in the media centre. I heard the term “darkies” used when in that paddock that prompted me having to do a double take. I know other journos have reported similar conversations through the years.

And as I was thinking about writing this article, Gresini Racing, keen to lean in on the Hamilton purchase rumours, photoshopped dreadlocks on multiple white members of their staff as a joke. Gresini has tried to be the funny team in the MotoGP paddock for sometime now, photoshopping their riders into movies and making jokes in their press releases. I get it, and the majority of the time, it’s been cool. This was way too far. You don’t get to use the cultural appropriation of a hairstyle associated with black people as a joke. It’s even worse when you consider that both the Marquez brothers are laughing along in the comments.

On any level, this was a huge fuck up. We don’t ultimately know just how serious these talks are, but it could easily be a dealbreaker before it’s even started. Lewis is an incredibly principled man, one of the few to speak out against an Andretti-specific 11th team in the sport, likely because of the disappointing comments made by Mario in 2020. There’s other recent examples of deals being broken due to shitty handling of social media, such as Hawkers being dumped by Sergio Perez in 2016 after the sunglasses maker joked about the “wall” being built at the Mexican border. And of course, McLaren broke up with Juncos Hollinger in IndyCar just last month over Agustin Canapino’s denial of the abuse Theo Pourchaire suffered. 

And the most startling thing about all of this… the deafening silence from those in the MotoGP media, some of whom couldn’t wait to promote the heck out of a Hamilton story in their own backyard. It’s all the proof needed that in the paddock and beyond, a lot of work needs to be done, regardless of whether Hamilton’s there to “fix it”. 

From a business standpoint, I think this is struggling to make sense. And from a cultural standpoint, I’ve had just about enough of pinning all of Motorsport’s social issues on its one black figurehead. Again. 

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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