Will Hamilton “Un-Honse” Ferrari, BMW to MotoGP? – #AskDre March 2024

Could BMW really go all-in on MotoGP? Will Lewis Hamilton cure Ferrari of honse-itis? And is Josef Newgarden back? All that and more on another Ask Dre!

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Read time: 10 mins

Hey gang, welcome back to another edition of Ask Dre! In this show, you the Motorsport101 Community ask me your humble host some questions on Formula 1, MotoGP, IndyCar, Formula E and the state of Motorsport in general, and I’ll do my very best to answer them! Let’s crack open the mailbag and see what we have here!

Hi Steve! If bringing in arguably the best and most marketable driver in F1 history isn’t a big enough incentive for you, then nothing will. Ferrari is a team that likes having big-name marquee drivers to build around and they’re walking into 2025 with arguably the best driver pairing the sport has seen since 2007. (In my opinion, Hamilton and Alonso was a super team and the last with this kind of clout)

And this feels like the start of a three-year plan. Year 1 is happening right now, with Lewis and Ferrari making all out plays to bring in as much of Hamilton’s successful crew and big-name support staff to load up the team with talent. Can Lewis convince some of Mercedes to up sticks and move to Italy?

Year 2 should be about getting Hamilton up to speed with the 2025 car and the Ferrari infrastructure and facilitating both his and Charles’s needs as they start work on what should be, Year 3. As you’ve probably guessed by now, 2026 is Year 3, the new technical regulations kick in and by then hopefully you’ve got a winning car and Ferrari can take a major honour for the first time since 2008.

I like what they’re doing, and they’re setting themselves up well given their 2024 car is quick and for me right now, the sport’s second best. If they can keep gaining from there, I think there’s a genuine chance they can get the monkey off their backs. But as you alluded to Steve… this is still Ferrari. The whiff of the honse is always there. But sincerely, I like what they’re doing right now. Maybe.

I can appreciate what IndyCar’s trying to do here. It’s genuinely trying to push for more events outside of the Indy 500 where we all know the majority of its focus lies. They tried putting together a post-season Argentina exhibition race last year but new President Javier Milei likely put pay to that when he slashed funding towards Motorsport events in the country. (It’s why MotoGP isn’t racing there this year) So a non-Championship round with a big prize pot makes sense… until it doesn’t.

It was advertised as a million-dollar challenge, but the winning driver was only going to collect $500k with a member of the Thermal Club getting the other half via a buy-in. That quietly got dropped. While it’s nice the race still carries a big $1.8m total pot… that’s not as catchy an advertising slogan. The format is convoluted because the track isn’t big enough to handle 27 cars, so everything from the qualifying to the heat races and eventual final is getting split into two and is very difficult for the non-educated fan to understand.

You’ve put it on a weekend that clashes with F1 in Australia and MotoGP in Portimao. And I thought THC would have made sense to break up that annoying month-long break at the start of the season but… it’s still there as the series doesn’t race again at Long Beach on April 21st. So any hype the series gathers will feel lost in the short term. 

And while yes, it’s nice that content creators are getting in on that (You know how weird it is that Conor Daly is now more of an influencer than he is a driver? Shoutout to Ash Vandelay), this to me has always felt more like a move to placate their big-money partnership with The Thermal Club given their previous testing there, more than a well thought out event to try and get more coverage for the series. 

Let’s see how it plays out on screen, There’ll be more coverage right here on Motorsport101 next week, but my gut feeling tells me this was an exercise in IndyCar placating to sponsor money than something with the fans in mind. 

A few names jump out at me here – Makoto Tamada should have had more than a single win in the top flight for the amount of talent he had. (And that Konica Minolta livery… woof.) Loris Capirossi often feels like the forgotten name as the aliens came into the sport via the Rossi era and beyond. Alvaro Bautista had to wait until his late 30s before he got a package that proved how good he was in World Superbikes. Andrea Dovizioso was more than “The Marquez Stopper” as the Spaniard racked up titles. 

My gut pick has always been Miguel Oliveira. And he’s someone I’ve always been very high on from his Moto3 days. He nearly pulled off the greatest title comeback in the history of the series when he nearly beat Danny Kent for the title and was shoulder-to-shoulder with Brad Binder and Francesco Bagnaia in Moto2 as a title contender. He has 5 MotoGP top-flight wins and is one of the strongest in the rain too. I just wish he had something more competitive as an overall package that truly lets him shine. Maybe Trackhouse will eventually be that team but it has some work to do. Speaking of which…

Great question, and even as a new NASCAR fan, you can tell Trackhouse is built differently. I’m a huge fan of Justin Marks, he moves in ways other team bosses don’t. He likes and embraces European Motorsport and had no problem bringing in F1 guys to have a go in their cars like Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat. Ross Chastain has also been a huge needle mover in NASCAR, with the Hail Melon, unpredictable personality and the fact he was a Championship Runner-Up in 2022. 

And I like what they’ve done in MotoGP so far. Leaning on their US heritage, the bold star-spangled livery. And Marks has gotten the chequebook out big time to pay for top-end machinery at Aprilia and bringing in Davide Brivio who I thought was heading straight for Honda. Those are big money moves and Marks thinks it’s worth it for the greater good. I love it. 

The real work though, begins now. How does Aprilia handle having four bikes in their setup? Is their bike good enough to regularly breach the Ducati and KTM fest at the top of the standings? Is Marks content with his riders? Miguel Oliviera is a good veteran presence and Raul Fernandez is a talent that could be very rewarding if he can be unlocked, but given almost everyone in MotoGP is a free agent at season’s end, does he make another big splash on a rider? I mentioned it on the M101 podcast, I think there could be room for a certain French Yamaha rider… it’s the exact kinda of marquee signing that Marks would want. Listen to me now, believe me later on.

I have a few names that I think qualify here: 

Will Power – Under pressure to prove that 2023 wasn’t just a family-related down year given that series is loaded with good young drivers that could make the 43-year-old potentially replaceable in a contract year for the Aussie.

Marcus Ericsson – Was the Chip Ganassi tenure more down to the setup than Marcus himself? Can he bring some much-needed security to an Andretti team that badly needs a “glue guy”?

Christian Lundgaard – Was last year a fluke? Arguably the #1 free agent name on the board for 2025…

Scott Dixon – Is Chip’s team still his? The man doesn’t want to be beaten by Palou three times in the last four years. 

Mark Miles – Honda threatening to quit, Nashville decider in tatters, Internal squabbles about the leadership of the series and talks of a charter system that reminds so many of the horrible “split”, something that the US open-wheel market has never truly recovered from. If there’s one figure in the series who should be under pressure, it’s him.

This is an interesting one, and there are a lot of puzzle pieces that make this make sense. I know that Dorna has always kept Suzuki’s grid spots open in case another factory wanted to replace them. BMW has been open to expanding its Motorsport presence again after scaling back during the pandemic, like their entry into Hypercar in Sportscar racing, and getting its chequebook out in World Superbikes to splash out on big-name riders like Scott Redding and Toprak Razgatilogliu. 

And there’s no getting around it – The market has changed. It used to be a game of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” back in the days of the 90s when you could buy a 160bhp Suzuki GSR-1000 for £8,000. The best power deal in motoring. Times have changed. A pandemic made us all a bit more careful with cash and in shocking news, no one wants to buy a £40,000 Superbike anymore. And trust me, putting a 225bhp Ducati Panigale V4 on today’s roads is a one-way trip to a hospital bed. 

But what I do know is, that the power of the brand has taken the lead. Marc Marquez was the biggest commercial pull for Honda that they’ve ever had. Yamaha sells bikes by the bucketload in Southeast Asia, especially their smaller ones like the R3. And their legendary R1 just got pulled from production. KTM hasn’t had a Superbike on the road in the better part of a decade and they’re spending big to try and chase down Ducati, who sells everything but the Panigale and the kitchen sink of the back of all that winning. 

BMW wanting a piece of that makes some sense. But they’ve also been a factory that’s been Renault-esque in cycling in and out of series when the money dries up, as they have in Touring Cars, F1, Sportscar Racing, etc. And I’m not sure it’s worth this kind of financial gamble for a series that is dominated by established factories especially the dominant Ducati right now.

As a fan, I’d love to see it, but I’d be very cautious if I were BMW because I’m not sure that this is the right kind of investment.

It certainly doesn’t help when you’re looking for variance to help the overall entertainment of the product. 2024 marked another F1 first. It was the first time in F1 history that every single car on the grid made the chequered flag in a season opener.

And it’s something that comes up a lot when I read discussions about how entertaining the sport is right now. If you’re over the age of 25, you probably watched at least some of the V8 or V10 era. Back then, there was a much higher than zero per cent chance an engine or hydraulics on a car would fail, and that shock factor can make a race more entertaining. Remember the 2012 European Grand Prix in Valencia when Alonso won from 11th on the grid? Let’s be real here, a huge part of that race’s status came as a result of Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean suffering alternator failures in the first two acts. 

And when one guy in F1 has won 40 out of the last 50 Grand Prix, with only two technical retirements in that same span, you can’t bet on divine intervention throwing the field a bone. So yeah, it’s a factor. Maybe not the biggest, but certainly enough for it to be acknowledged. 

And this is the beauty and curse of IndyCar as a fan and pundit. It can be endlessly fun with a million different possibilities… and that makes it nearly impossible to predict. 

Newgarden’s St Petersburg crushing was his first win outside an oval since Road America 2022. That was 27 starts ago and that’s not enough for me to call it a trend bucker. But if there’s one guy you want to give the benefit of the doubt to, it’s Newgarden. I’ve gushed about his ability in the past and I still do because St Pete is what I know he’s capable of. I’ve called him a five-tool IndyCar driver ala baseball because he can win on any ground – Short Oval, Superspeedway, Road, Street or the Indy 500. He’s done it all and there’s only a handful of guys you can put in that class. 

The other guys in that class are the obvious challengers for me – Scott McLaughlin, Alex Palou, Scott Dixon, Will Power and Pato O’Ward are the five other big hitters who I think (when at 100%), can beat him over a season. The jury’s still out on a couple of others like Marcus Ericsson and Colton Herta, but I have bigger question marks about them now. 

If Newgarden’s new approach has made him focus back on his driving again, the entire series needs to be on notice. Because at his best, they are few better. Ever. Remember, he’s won more races in IndyCar than Rick Mears has.

Not sure. Even if sustainable fuels are the answer, car firms have gone too far down the electric road to turn back now. And I’ve read enough about them from colleagues like Hazel Southwell that the electricity needed to store and produce it is nowhere near enough to call it “sustainable”. And the amount of scale needed to make it worth it scares me. 

Formula E has tried to move the needle as the innovator of electric racing but we’re 10 years in and the series still isn’t sure what it wants to be, and no one else has picked up the baton to challenge it. And I think it’s still too early to talk about Hydrogen as a genuinely viable platform yet. 

So yeah, not sure what the answer is yet, but I’m not convinced it’s fully electric, or via sustainable fuels. 

See you back in April for another edition of Ask Dre, thanks for reading!

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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