BMW in MotoGP

Story by David Booth//
July 2 2024

As MotoGP “silly seasons” go, the last few days before we went to press have been the silliest we’ve seen in some time. Jorge Martin, fed up with Ducati’s dithering about who will join Pecco Bagnaia on the Ducati factory team, did a deal — in a matter of hours, if we’re reading his fit of pique right — with Aprilia to replace the retiring Aleix Espargaro.

That leaves Marc Marquez, so long the face of Honda — whose sponsor, Repsol, just announced dropping their sponsorship after 30 years — now sitting pretty in the red livery of the Ducati Lenovo factory team. Meanwhile, Enea Bastianini, who finished a brilliant second in Mugello — with a dramatic last lap, last corner pass on championship-leader Martin — is out of a ride. I’ve been covering MotoGP for nigh 40 years and I’ve never seen anything as “silly” as this.
But, believe it or not, the biggest news in motorcycle racing had nothing to do with MotoGP’s latest game of musical chairs. In fact, it happened far away from any racetrack, in a quiet little room in a sleepy villa at a classic car show on Lago di Como, no less. That’s where the ex-CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, now chief executive officer of Bayerische Motoren Werke’s Motorrad division, all but promised that…

BMW Will Soon Be in MOTOGP

Now, to be sure, there was no official announcement. For that we would have had a million kilowatts of flood lighting, a swarm of public relations flacks fussing and the entirety of MotoGP’s press corps. I might have even worn a suit. Nonetheless, the evidence presented, not to mention the demeanor of the CEO in question, Marcus Flasch, says that the deal is all but done. Here’s how he responded to Mojo’s query about what the benefits might be of BMW joining the MotoGP circus.

BMW Needs The World Stage

The primary reason Flasch gave for making the leap to motorcycling’s premier class is that BMW’s motorcycle division needs the world stage. “We are the leading premium motorcycle manufacturer in the world,” said Flasch, “and there is a champion’s league of racing and the champion’s league is MotoGP” before noting that World Superbike, where the company currently runs the ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team, “is only a European championship with one race in Australia.” In plainer terms, he thinks BMW has outgrown WSBK.

He’s Impressed With What Liberty Media’s Done with F1

Liberty Media, largely credited with Formula One’s growing audience — mostly through its Drive to Survive docu-series — recently took over MotoGP and Motorrad’s CEO sees this as an ideal opportunity to hitch a ride on what he sees will be a surge in audience for motorcycle racing. “MotoGP will receive even more [promotion] in the future with Liberty Media taking over, and we see what happened to Formula One when they took over, I see the significance of MotoGP to be rising.”

The Rider

The timing also seems ripe for BMW to step up to the big leagues. In Toprak Razgatlıoğlu, the company would seem to have the kind of star-in-the-making that would set the MotoGP world alight. His performance so far this year — he’s but six points behind Alvaro Bautista atop the WSBK leaderboard — on his new-to-him M1000RR has made a mockery of Yamaha’s rejection of securing his services for their increasingly-floundering MotoGP efforts. And, judging by recent testing, by the time the series leaves the next round, also at Mugello, he’ll probably sit atop the leaderboard. Make no mistake, Razgatlıoğlu will be a contender in any series he chooses and the whole of BMW Motorrad, including Flasch, knows it.

The Intangible

At first glance, Flasch’s curriculum vitae reads pretty much the same as any German auto/motosports senior manager. He started out in engineering — as an aerodynamicist at Audi — and worked his way out of the technical departments into management before becoming, first, chief executive officer of BMW’s M Division, then SVP in charge of Rolls-Royce and, finally, CEO of BMW Motorrad.

Not written into that official history is that he is a risk-taker. The accomplishment of which he is most proud, for instance, is climbing the Ortler’s North Wall in Italy — the largest ice wall in the eastern Alps. On a professional level, depending on which story you believe, he either signed off on or was the instigator of BMW’s return to the premier class of endurance racing with its current M Hybrid V8 Hypercar. Judging from the passion displayed in our meeting, I’ll bet on the latter, an important factor considering that upper management were reportedly not all that keen. Closer to home, while BMW’s brilliant R20 Concept may be the work of Alexander Buckan, the reason it will get produced is because Flasch believes in the project.

Show Me the Money

As to what might stop BMW from being the latest European motorcycle manufacturer to join the ranks of MotoGP, it’s the obvious — money. Or, more specifically, justifying the expenditure. As Flasch said, “As you know, with marketing, it’s always hard to tell if the first or the second $50 million that you spent was the right $50 million. It’s not exactly something you can do your due diligence on.” And, no surprise, it does take big money to make it in MotoGP; KTM president Stefan Pierer, estimating that it takes as much as US$75 million to reach the podium in motorcycling’s premier league.

Nonetheless, I fully expect that, come 2027, when the new 850-cc rules are implemented, there will be a BMW on the grid and Toprak Razgatlıoğlu will be riding it. Bet on it!

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