MotoGP bans aerodynamic wings amidst controversy
The Grand Prix Commission delivered its final verdict on the use of aerodynamic wings, banning them from all racing classes from 2017 onwards. Citing safety concerns, the ruling followed the manufacturers' failure to reach a unanimous agreement, and sparked complaints from Ducati.
The use of aerodynamic assists in the modern era of MotoGP was pioneered by Ducati, conceived as a remedy to the front end instability issues that plagued the Desmosedici for several years. Although the wing-shaped spoilers on the side fairings of the motorcycle were initially seen as a fleeting oddity by most, they soon started luring other teams into investigating their potential.
In today's MotoGP grid, the majority of factory motorcycles are equipped with wings. Almost all top riders employ them regularly, with the possible exception of Honda's Dani Pedrosa who only uses them occasionally.
In this sense, the final ruling of the Grand Prix Commission during the race weekend in Assen, Holland, should contrast the will of the strongest players in the MotoGP paddock. Yet this isn't the case, as only Ducati voices its objection.
For the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM), MotoGP title holders Dorna Sports, and the International Racing Teams' Association (IRTA) this was a unanimous decision. The fourth member of the Grand Prix Commission attending the Assen meeting was the secretary of the Manufacturers' Association (MSMA), who didn't have voting rights. The reasoning behind the ban focuses on safety concerns, as the protruding carbon fiber wings are seen as a potential danger for the riders in case of an accident.
So far no rider has actually been hurt by wings, but some incidents have caused some concern. At the GP of Argentina in April, Andrea Iannone crashed his Ducati on the Honda of Marc Marquez, his winglet breaking the on-board camera on the tail of the RC213V.
"If it can break that, it could be much worse if it hits a body," said Marquez' team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the time. "This has to be stopped for safety reasons, because the wings are very big and they have a very nasty profile."
Before the start of the 2016 season, wings were ruled out of the two smaller classes, Moto2 and Moto3. Although this did not extend to MotoGP, several riders and team executives would sporadically call for their abolition – including Honda's two-time champion Marc Marquez, who had previously described them as having enormous potential.
We should also note that as we move towards the back the MotoGP grid we'll find several privateer teams that do not use wings at all; a fact that possibly comes down the sheer cost of development.
The Commission had already convened on the same matter in late May during the Italian GP at Mugello, pressing the MSMA to come up with a mutually agreed proposal for an acceptable size and shape for the wings. As Motomatters' David Emmett reports, Ducati and Honda stood their ground at opposing corners; Ducati wanted free development while Honda insisted on banning them for good.
"First our rivals copied us, then they pushed to change the regulation," said Gigi Dall'Igna, General Manager of Ducati Corse in an interview with Italian Gpone.com. "My feeling is that, seeing as Ducati is further forward in terms of aerodynamics, they wanted to penalize us by using the rather ridiculous excuse of safety.
"We believe that the wings make the bike safer, not the opposite, because they keep the front wheel attached to the ground and improve directionality. There have been accidents in the past and the riders involved have never been injured. Safety has been used as an excuse by those wanting to penalize us. I'm sure that next year we'll nevertheless have a competitive bike, even without winglets."
Dall'Igna expresses his objections in a rather defensive manner, but the Ducati Corse Team Coordinator, Davide Tardozzi, exercised a more aggressive approach. "Like in F1, now we will need to look carefully at the future regulation", he said. "Every single word will be important, because whatever is not forbidden will be permitted."
This was exactly how the wings came into play on the first place. What we understand from this statement is that Ducati will look to somehow incorporate the wings into the fairing design within lawful boundaries.
This is not the first time that Ducati sees itself as a targeted victim of rule changes. When in 2012 Dorna was pushing for a series of cost-shaving changes that included the spec electronic management systems (now in force), among its proposals was a maximum engine rev limit of 14,500 rpm. Ducati immediately reacted by claiming that the competition was targeting its Desmo valvetrain system. MotoGP motorcycles revving as high as 18,000 rpm need very precise valve actuation systems; where valve springs fail, Ducati simply relied on Fabio Taglioni's venerable and highly effective desmodromic system it has been using since the 1960s, while for the Japanese this meant developing pneumatic valve systems.