What will BMW need to win in MotoGP?


A change of management has got BMW Motorrad interested in MotoGP for the first time in two decades, as Dorna grows the premier class and shrinks World Superbike. So, what will BMW need to succeed in the biggest category of them all and will its WSB genius Toprak Razgatlıoğlu be involved?


Toprak Razgatlıoğlu is already winning WSB races for BMW. He will be 30 years-old in 2027 – perhaps at his peak – when rumours suggest BMW may enter MotoGP


It’s the oldest story in MotoGP: BMW is coming! MotoGP has been wooing the German manufacturer for at least two decades, because having a premium global brand like Bayerische Motoren Werke AG on the grid is a big deal.

The story is so old that it first made headlines when Pedro Acosta was still in nappies. Here’s an internet headline dated March 2006: “BMW to join MotoGP with factory race bike”. In fact BMW was testing a MotoGP prototype at that time, of which more later.

And here’s another, dated March 2011: “BMW eyeing up MotoGP entry – BMW in secret meetings with Dorna”.

And here’s another, from last month: “BMW looking closely at a future MotoGP entry”, following a statement by Markus Flasch, who was appointed CEO of BMW Motorrad last November.

Flasch’s predecessor, Markus Schramm, wasn’t so keen. “I think the additional brand effect [versus World Superbikes] is marginal in MotoGP,” said Schramm in 2019. “It would not justify the effort we would have to put in.”

Related article

Acosta and Viñales make MotoGP history at COTA

Acosta and Viñales make MotoGP history at COTA

Pedro Acosta lit up MotoGP once again on Sunday in the 2024 US GP, narrowly missing victory, which went to Viñales and Aprilia. Meanwhile Ducati once again struggled with the dreaded chatter

By Mat Oxley

So what has changed? Management, obviously, but since Schramm’s statement the difference between WSB and MotoGP has become more than marginal.

In 2019 WSB raced in Europe, the USA, South America, Qatar and Thailand. Now the series numbers only twelve rounds, all in Europe, apart from the season-opening Australian event. Meanwhile MotoGP has grown from 19 to 21 rounds, 12 in Europe, nine outside.

Last year’s spectator numbers mirror those figures: the 2023 WSB season attracted 593,000 trackside fans, against 2.9 million in MotoGP.

Those trackside figures make MotoGP five times bigger than WSB. These numbers are, of course, a factor of Dorna growing MotoGP and shrinking WSB to make MotoGP motorcycling’s undisputed premier class, like Formula 1 in car racing.

This presumably is Dorna’s vision – that the manufacturers spend their money on MotoGP, while WSB becomes a low-cost series supported mostly by importer- and privateer-backed teams.

Dorna’s sale to Liberty Media will most likely continue this trend, because WSB wasn’t mentioned once during a 55-minute media conference following Liberty’s acquisition of Dorna earlier this month. Will Liberty sell WSB? Highly unlikely, because why give a rival a way into the sport?

Flasch backed up his comments to German magazine Motorrad with these words in the latest edition of Dutch magazine KicXstart, “We will evaluate very carefully whether other classes and formats indeed make sense for us”.

These statements suggest BMW is looking seriously at MotoGP, most likely from 2027, when new technical regulations are introduced – always the best time to enter a championship.

Dorna’s efforts to get BMW into MotoGP took a weird turn a couple of years ago. When Suzuki announced its withdrawal from the championship, Dorna wanted BMW to take Suzuki’s GSX-RR MotoGP bikes and race them with BMW badges. But Schramm was in charge then and why would a proud German manufacturer want to race Japanese motorcycles?

So far, the short-lived 2006 prototype is as close as BMW has come to entering MotoGP.

BMW MotoGP 2

Former 125cc and 250cc world champion Luca Cadalora testing the 2006 BMW Oral MotoGP prototype. The engine was basically three cylinders off a BMW Formula 1 car

BMW subcontracted this project to Oral Engineering, an Italian company founded by Mauro Forghieri, a former Ferrari Formula 1 engineer. The MotoGP prototype was tested by former MotoGP riders Jeremy McWilliams and Luca Cadalora.

The 800cc triple (MotoGP engines were due to be limited to 800cc from 2007) was basically three cylinders off BMW’s 2.4-litre V8 Formula 1 car engine.

This in spite of the fact that Aprilia had raced the first three seasons of MotoGP with its 990cc Cube, which was essentially three cylinders off Cosworth’s three-litre V10 F1 engine. The Cube proved that using F1 engine tech in MotoGP is little more than a great way of making millionaires out of surgeons and osteopaths.

The Cube wanted to kill you everywhere

“The Cube wanted to kill you everywhere,” says McWilliams, who raced the bike in 2004. “It made lots of horsepower, in all the wrong places. I think it broke every one of my ribs twice in that season. It had this really weird torque curve – it started making torque at around 9000rpm, then it dropped away and then there was a really sharp torque peak at 12,500, which sent the bike sideways and fired you on your nose.”

The Oral BMW that McWilliams was contracted to evaluate in 2006 was even worse.

“Oral wanted me to convince them that it would work, but it was much like the Cube, only worse – no engine inertia,” remembers McWilliams.

This is because racing car and racing motorcycle engines require totally different philosophies.

Car engines are all about pedal to the metal, because cars have four big tyres creating lots of grip, so you want a lightweight crankshaft for minimal engine inertia, so the engine picks up revs like a two-stroke.

MotoGP 3

Celebrating Catalunya WSB success with Razgatlıoğlu. BMW Motorrad’s new CEO Markus Flasch is in the T-shirt, next to team-principal Shuan Muir, who stands next to Razgatlıoğlu’s team-mate Michael van der Mark

Motorcycle engines are all about part throttle, because motorcycles have two tiny contact patches, so you want a heavier crank for more engine inertia, so the engine builds revs in a friendlier way that won’t overwhelm the rear tyre.

“The Cube had a very light crankshaft, so it had too little inertia, so as soon as you opened the throttle the rear tyre would spin,” McWilliams adds. “We were always asking for more inertia, but they said there was no room in the engine.”

It’s amazing that BMW and Oral hadn’t considered the Cube’s failure before venturing down the same dead-end road.

“I remember testing the BMW at Almeria [Spain],” McWilliams continues. “They had twenty engineers inside two garages. Every time I came in, they’d download the data.

“At the end of the test, I said, ‘Look guys, the best thing is for you to come outside, stand by the track and you’ll see what’s wrong’. The bike would just light itself up and never hold a stable exit and pump itself into oblivion. There was so much rubber on the track!”

And this is the biggest lesson that BMW needs to learn if it does enter MotoGP in 2027: don’t let its car engineers near the motorcycle!

BMW was huge in 1930s motorcycle grand prix racing, winning many GPs and the 1938 500cc European championship (precursor of the world championship) with its fearsome supercharged boxer twin. But the company hasn’t won a solo GP since the birth of the world championships in 1949.

Over subsequent decades BMW became known for producing classy but steady road bikes and tourers – nothing to challenge Italian and Japanese superbikes until the launch of the S1000RR in 2008.

This signalled a major change of direction for the brand. BMW entered the S1000RR in the 2009 World Superbike championship, with big hopes and a big budget. But for all kinds of reasons the company never really challenged for the title. Its best championship finish in the last 15 seasons is Marco Melandri’s third place in 2012. That’s an impressive record of under-achievement.

Dorna MotoGP

BMW has been involved in MotoGP since the 1990s, supplying safety cars and other cars to the championship, a deal which includes track signage

I remember talking to Melandri’s team-mate Leon Haslam in 2013 and he had some scary tales of weird electronics concepts, which suggested BMW still had car engineers trying car ideas on the S1000RR. Bad idea.

BMW was so fed up after its first few seasons in WSB that it shut down its factory effort and created a customer support programme for private teams that ran the S1000RR. The factory returned in 2019, with team organisation looked after by Shaun Muir’s SMR outfit, while BMW took charge of the technical side of things. That arrangement is still in place.

Related article

Can Ducati solve its chatter mystery?

Can Ducati solve its chatter mystery?

Ducati has a serious chatter problem and MotoGP championship leader Jorge Martin can’t understand why other manufacturers aren’t struggling with the same phenomenon. Plus, what does chatter do and what causes it?

By Mat Oxley

In other words, it’s still not a full-factory team. No factory MotoGP team operates like this – all five are fully under the control of the manufacturer.

Signing Toprak Razgatlıoğlu for WSB – which wouldn’t have been cheap in WSB terms – suggests that BMW might be taking racing more seriously, which might give credence to Flasch’s recent announcement.

No doubt, Dorna is courting Flasch like hell, involving BMW in MotoGP’s 2027 technical rules rewrite. BMW knows it will have a huge amount of catching up to do in MotoGP, so it will want to reduce the areas where it has little or no experience, which means downforce aero, ride-height devices and holeshot devices. (BMW won’t be the only company campaigning to get rid of this stuff.)

It’s no coincidence that KTM waited until the introduction of spec electronics software before it entered MotoGP, because the Austrian company knew it would take years to create anything like the tailor made, machine-learning software used by the championship’s existing factories.


BMW won its only solo motorcycle GPs in the 1930s, when the Nazis bankrolled various German motor sport projects. This is factory BMW rider Georg Meier – wearing Nazi insignia, as required by the Nazi Party – who won the 1938 500cc European championship and the 1939 Senior TT

That’s why KTM commenced its RC16 project in earnest just a few months after MotoGP announced the 2016 introduction of spec software in March 2014. And KTM’s successes in MotoGP prove that you can start from nowhere and beat everyone in a few years – if you run a great project like KTM’s, in which the generals speak to the foot soldiers and everyone works in the same direction.

By the way, the huge coverage KTM has enjoyed in recent years, thanks to its RC16 running at the front of MotoGP, may be one reason why BMW is considering MotoGP, because it doesn’t like another Germanic motorcycle brand getting all the headlines. Corporate egos play as big a part in racing as rider egos.

Related article

The Aprilia MotoGP bike you’ve never seen

The Aprilia MotoGP bike you’ve never seen

A few months ago I was talking to Aleix Espargaró about Aprilia’s long and winding road to the summit of MotoGP, from the 500cc two-stroke twin of the 1990s to…

By Mat Oxley

So, apart from keeping car engineers well away from its MotoGP project and learning from its mistakes in WSB, what else will BMW need to make a success in the premier class of bike racing?

First, it must decide its engine configuration: V4 or inline-four?

V4 engines rule MotoGP. They have taken six of the last eight riders’ titles and monopolised the constructors’ prize during that period. So far this season, V4 machines have locked out the podium in every sprint and GP race and currently fill the top eleven places in the championship.

So surely BMW will build a V4? Maybe, maybe not. When MotoGP switched from 990cc to 800cc in 2007, corner speed became more important, which helped the M1 win three riders’ titles and three constructors’ crowns during the five-year 800 era.

Thus it’s not that obvious which way BMW should go. However, if the company is serious about MotoGP, it should already be working towards running computer simulations of both configurations.


Marco Melandri wins BMW’s first WSB race at Donington in 2012, BMW’s fourth season in the championship. It was the company’s first big roadracing success since the 1939 Senior TT

Second, BMW will need to spend big, which won’t be a problem, because the company is the world’s sixth-biggest car manufacturer – in terms of revenue – behind Ford and in front of Honda. And if the decision is made to chase MotoGP glory, the company will be happy to spend on MotoGP. Remember that Volkswagen subsidiary Audi helps Ducati’s MotoGP effort, even though the companies have different names and come from different countries.

What kind of money? If BMW wants to succeed it will have to spend around 100 million Euros (£85 million) a year to get the project off the ground. This will include buying the best engineers and technicians from rival MotoGP factories – engine designers, chassis designers, electronics experts, aerodynamicists, mechanics and so on.

This is how KTM caught up Ducati and this is what BMW must do to climb the MotoGP learning curve as quickly as quickly as possible. All this will mean some glorious pay days for MotoGP’s cleverest brains!

And riders? Razgatlıoğlu is 27-years-old, which will make him 30 at the start of the 2027 season. What more perfect situation could there be than BMW hiring two top MotoGP riders – one for racing, the other for testing – to ride with the Turk and develop its MotoGP bike. If Razgatlıoğlu stays healthy he should be an even better rider by 2027 and everyone knows that MotoGP already needs him on the grid.

You may also like