2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 3: Aerodynamcs, or Snoopy & The Red Baron

One factor which could be having an effect on tires is the aerodynamics war which has seen wings sprouting from every forward surface of the fairing. The outbreak of strake cancer has seen the winglets massively increase in size and surface area, making the latest version on the Ducati Desmosedici GP resemble Baron von Richthofen's Fokker Dr.I triplane.

Ducati were the first to understand and seize on the potential of the aerodynamic winglets, debuting them at Qatar last season. There were met with some skepticism for most of last year, until Yamaha suddenly rolled out their own version of them at Aragon. In 2016, the winglet craze has infected the entire paddock, with the bikes of all five manufacturers now sporting some form of aerodynamic device.

Why did Ducati start fitting winglets? Because they work. One engineer who has seen the data told me that the effect was visible in it. The bike wheelies less when it has wings fitted compared to not having winglets. That reduction in wheelie means that wheelie doesn't have to be managed using the electronics to reduce power and torque. That, in turn, means the bike can accelerate harder out of the corner, reaching higher top speeds at the end of the straight. The other manufacturers have all come to the same conclusion, hence the outbreak of winglets.

Roll out the ban hammer

Not for much longer. Safety concerns had been raised several times, by the riders and by some other factories, most notably Honda. Much was made of Andrea Iannone's winglet hitting Marc Márquez in a first-corner clash at Argentina. Though Márquez was uninjured by being hit in the back by Iannone's wing, several people, including Cal Crutchlow, said that the Spaniard only came away unharmed thanks to his back protector.

These safety concerns were discussed in the Grand Prix Commission, and the MSMA, representing the manufacturers, were told to draw up a unanimous proposal to limit winglets, which the GPC would adopt. If they did not, then the Grand Prix Commission would present its own proposal on the issue, which would then be subject to a majority vote.

It was a fine piece of politicking by those within Dorna and IRTA who wanted the winglets banned. Knowing that the factories would never agree among themselves – Ducati were keen to continue development, Honda were vehemently opposed – they came to Assen with a proposal to ban the wings from 2017 if the MSMA did not have something they could all agree on. They did not, and wings are now banned.

The danger is not where you think it is

Are the winglets currently being used in MotoGP really unsafe? They are, but not in the way they are usually accused of. So far, there has been no incidence of winglets causing actual physical harm to riders in the event of a crash, with other components, both sharper and harder, posing a much more direct threat.

Where winglets are really dangerous is at the end of the straight. Better drive out of corners means higher top speeds along straights. Higher top speeds mean riders are moving faster when they crash under braking and slide off into the gravel. Higher speed crashes mean more runoff is needed in corners, and tracks are already running out of room. Expanding gravel beds is becoming physically impossible at some tracks. At others, it is merely prohibitively expensive.

The run off required to meet rising speeds is becoming an issue at the majority of tracks on the calendar. "Maybe Qatar is the only place it is OK," Valentino Rossi said after Luis Salom was killed in a crash at Barcelona. Salom's tragic death highlighted the issue of track run off, though his crash was not related to speed. But it is clear that there are very few places which now do not have problems, or will not soon be running into issues as speeds increase.

A victim of horse trading

The irony is that the factories could have kept their winglets if they had been prepared to accept far more drastic measures. Before the introduction of the maximum bore limit of 81mm, the factories had rejected a rev limit, which would have certainly reduced top speeds. The factories have also pushed for the current level of performance of the spec electronics, which still provides sophisticated traction control and anti-wheelie strategies. If the unified software had been reduced to a very low level, as Dorna had wanted, then that would have had a major impact on top speeds. That, in turn, would have left room for the factories to explore aerodynamics, and keep the winglets.

As it is, there may still be a role for aerodynamics. The cat is clearly out of the bag, and the factories now all believe in the efficacy of aerodynamic devices in improving acceleration. After the Sachsenring, MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge, Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli, and Race Director Mike Webb had planned to sit down and discuss ways of policing other aerodynamic devices which factories may use to try to circumvent the ban on wings. That meeting did not happen due to time constraints, and is now set to happen between Austria and Brno. It is likely to be lengthy and difficult. And the rulebook won't get any slimmer.

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Surely we'll now see bodywork evolve to provide downforce - perhaps double-skinned 'slotted' fairings with air channels in them. That might even prove to be a better method than winglets because to my layman's mind it could potentially provide straightline downforce without the side loading that winglets seem to give when cornering.

What's it all going to cost?

After the Sachsenring, MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge, Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli, and Race Director Mike Webb had planned to sit down and discuss ways of policing other aerodynamic devices which factories may use to try to circumvent the ban on wings.

Again, the beginning of the end. Refer to my comment on part 1 of this (excellent) review. It baffles me people can still be so incredibly naive as to think this is the way to go.

Beyond safety concerns there is another compelling reason to ban aerodynamic downforce in MotoGP. Dorna has gone to great lengths to control costs and create a more level playing field in MotoGP and as F1 has demonstrated Aero downforce development is a never ending incremental exercise fueled by cubic money. There are always small gains to be made by the factories willing to spend, spend, spend. This is detrimental to the sport as it places a further leverage on budgets determining the outcomes of the sport.

“Wings help the bike to be more stable and they also improve the braking performance. So this helps safety. It's a shame [to ban them]. 

“If MSMA had reached a unanimous position it would have been automatically accepted [into the rules] by the Grand Prix Commission. Now every manufacturer will try to recover the same downforce in a different way. Maybe in a more expensive way."

And Aprilia tried to work with Ducati and convince Honda/Yamaha to agree to making a unanimous decision to keep wings. They have the smallest budget in MotoGP don't they?

He said there isn't evidence of dirty air, then and so the decision should be made on crash safety - and proposed back swept wings instead of perpendicular to reduce "snag" on other riders. There is SO much reason to think that this guy is saying what would advantage Aprilia with a cost saving goal in mind on this one.

Dirty air
David you didn't mention what riders were noting as a real and scary red baron effect (you didn't get that reference from me did you? You can have it ;)

"Dirty" turbulence and head shake at top speeds.

I am ok w getting rid of them. And backing off electronics from any "turn by turn" tech. Put it back on the rider.

Bikes will keep getting faster. Tracks will need to change as they can. And we will have to accept when they can't. The safest tracks are boring rides btw. Give me some character. Look at the TT's...these tracks are FINE. The sport is dangerous.

We will lose a rider every couple/few yrs even if we pad the whole place. The last fatality at my track here was a bicyclist making a breakaway on an outside line, losing it, and finding a bit of concrete barrier w his helmet. Bicycle as in pedals.

Danger - it is there. We need to do a good enough job with it, not eliminate it.

Dirty air? That I don't like.

The "dirty air" thing is a joke. Here's Romano Albesanio from Aprilia:

Albesiano agreed that the impact issue should be addressed, but said there is no evidence to support claims that swirling winglet vortexes were causing following bikes to wobble.

“Some riders complained about [following another rider] in the slipstream. The slipstream argument I absolutely don't believe, because in the aerodynamic wake created by a motorcycle it is impossible to find the vortex generated by the wings."
So that's one myth gone.

Firefly, when was an Aprilia EVER been in the slip stream of a 2016 Ducati? There weren't wings on the Honda Customer CRT.
That is one theoretical account from Albesanio and his "belief." Several riders said they felt it. I saw a video bit at some point w otherwise inexplicable head shake that looked like dirty air. Pedrosa as I recall.

Theoretical explanation with belief can be found in the paddock as numerous as shoelaces. You making it fact and several rider accounts and contrary theoretical beliefs myth makes me feel smart. Which isn't good for me, because I already over value my perspective. Look! We have a other thing in common!
(Smiling over here. I like you and what you write, great job not getting caught up in the "fan boy ism" attacks you got a bit ago. Isn't it great to disagree and get along?).

Correct indeed. And given that he is one of many engineers with one of many well educated perspectives nor should it be codified as truth. Especially when expressed while employed by a team that may have secondary gains and politicized motives, which they all do on regulations. Conjecture sure, but this one engineer of many at struggling Aprilia that no one ever interviews could even have his own personal secondary considerations from within Aprilia (wings? Ours is as heavy as a cow and has 20 less horses pushing it...so aero doesn't even get on our to do list), and/or his self-referential adherence to being right from his own theoretical framework (engineers? Never!), or even just could have been so excited that a journo wasn't asking him if he had seen Vale about that he overstated a theory as truth. This guy walks by the Marlboro hospitality every day and sees their hams. Literally last weekend I was sorting a small bike's tuning for top speed and tucking in for a slipstream boost. The air coming off the thing in front of you is alive and you feel it. Your helmet shakes accordingly, as does the whole bike. It can be pretty violent. And right after you sense the speed boost it can pull you right into the guy in front of you like the Millenium Falcon to the Death Star.

Math on paper from a theory is in thing. A wind tunnel is another. Then, race condition dynamics, data logging, and the rider's subjective experience is the big deal. Valuing it exclusively inversely may be the classic specialized engineer's blunder. Why repeat the error?

Go ask the aero engineer from Honda if there is such a thing as dirty air, and get his or her "truth." My favorite? Herve Poncberal - show him what you got from the wind tunnel geeks, he is likely to speak wise appreciation re what is going on...especially when it is primarily a Honda - Ducati issue that favors factory teams. And as such, even his view needs another counter balancer.

Balanced view w multiple perspective taking. Some of us are more naturally inclined, all of us could benefit.

Every form of racing that has numerous vehicles on a race course with wings will disagree with you. It may not be as pronounced in bike racing, but dirty air most certainly exists

I believe it does, anyway. How can it not? More than one rider has emphatically stated that they have been affected by it. There would be no motivation to fabricate a claim of this nature, especially since now they are all sporting winglets. These winglets are not going to produce perfect laminar flow as they pass through the air - turbulence is going to be created and as a rider approaches there is going to be a point where he will be subjected to this turbulence or dirty air. At the speeds they are going now even the most minute changes in flow will be felt. In order to make these winglets operate at maximum efficiency massive amounts of money will have to be spent. At a time when a focus of the sport is to try and reel in costs.  

I understand the argument both ways. So you ban the winglets. Now that the manufacturers have data that proves they work, they will now have to find another way to achieve this result. Rule enforcement against aero devices means that the only other avenue to take will be more efficient body work and unobtanium materials. And how much will that cost? This is world championship racing, these teams will do whatever they can to get the edge in order to win. This is not cheating, this is the objective. When unreasonable restrictions are envoked, they will look for another solution. Those with the deepest pockets wins. And the smaller budget teams are once again left out of the equation.

I wish they could have agreed on reasonable limits for the winglets and kept them in play.  Now it's going to be the wild west of design all over again! It will be interesting indeed to see what comes out of these garages from 2017 on...

I believe it does, anyway. How can it not? More than one rider has emphatically stated that they have been affected by it. There would be no motivation to fabricate a claim of this nature, especially since now they are all sporting winglets.

I'm not saying riders are purposely fabricating things. But the so called dirty air generated by the wings simply doesn't exist. I believe riders when they say they feel it, because they believe they feel it. It's confirmation bias, the same thing that makes people believe horoscopes are accurate. It's your mind distorting reality to conform to your (pre set) beliefs.

The best thing against such tricks the mind plays on ourselves? Science. And data. And the data is conclusive: the wings generate zero turbelence or 'dirty air'. It is not visible on any telemetry data whatsoever.

Of course, some people will then still hold on to what they believe rather than admit they're wrong.

Horoscopes are generally crap.

Not trying to make ANY point about astrology. And yet, I am fairly sure that you are not an air or water sun sign, and are a mix of earth and fire signs. I know little about astrology or aerodynamics. One can know plenty about people and bikes w a good mix of subjective experience and theory, but best yet continual conceptual synthesis. Dialectical thinking hooked into gut level intuition that must be experienced to be considered trustworty or have faith/belief.

It wasn't just HRC riders speaking of dirty air. And by the way if it was, and we hung our helmets on that as truth, we would be a nice counterpart for doing so w the duality of some engineers' perspectives.

It is a tough proposition to say something does not exist because of theory and perhaps wind tunnel evidence! And I am enjoying the discussion.

Dirty air exists behind any moving vehicle, aircraft or otherwise. Turbulence is created by the air closing back in behind that moving vehicle...wings or no wings. That's what Albesiano means. The turbulence created by the entire motorcycle would obsucure any related turbulence created by the tiny appendages on them being called wings. A surface area calculation alone would verify that...as would smoke introduction in a wind tunnel test.