Why Can't Dorna Just Ban Ride-Height Devices And Aerodynamic Wings In MotoGP?

When I wrote about the difficult situation MotoGP finds itself in with respect to the new front tire Michelin is developing in an attempt to address the increasing problems with tire temperature and pressure, the immediate response, especially on Twitter, was "MotoGP should just ban ride-height devices and aerodynamics". While this is a charming notion, it is also utterly impractical. To paraphrase a quote from a movie about ill-thought out decisions, those commenters were so preoccupied with what MotoGP should, they didn't stop to think whether they could.

If you talk to independent team bosses, they have no love for either aerodynamics or ride-height devices. Similarly, senior officials within Dorna and IRTA have expressed a dislike for both technologies. If they could, they would get ride of ride-height devices tomorrow, and aerodynamics shortly after. Even a severe restriction on aerodynamics would be welcomed.

What Dorna would like to do, and what they can do, are two very different things, however. The formal process for changing the MotoGP technical regulations has been set out in detail, and simply do not allow Dorna to change the rules.

Making the rules

First, a quick refresher on how the rules are made in MotoGP. Proposals to change the sporting and technical rules are put forward to the Grand Prix Commission. The GPC has four members: the FIM, as sanctioning body; IRTA, representing the teams; the MSMA, representing the factories; and Dorna, as series promoter. Dorna chairs the body.

Votes on changes to the sporting rules are made by simple majority, with Dorna having the casting vote in case of a tie. In practice, proposals to change the sporting rules come from the teams and Dorna, with input from the FIM, and are discussed with the factories. The aim is to make changes unanimously, and Dorna works closely with the MSMA to get them on board with changes. But if they cannot do so, Dorna, IRTA, and the FIM can usually get through votes on their own if they need to. That is a last resort, however.

Changes to the technical regulations are different, however. The MSMA have a veto over the technical rules, as part of the five-year contract the factories have with Dorna for participation in MotoGP. The caveat here is that they only have a veto if the MSMA are unanimous, i.e. all six (or from next year, five) factories have to agree. In practice, this means that proposals to change the rules are only submitted with the prior agreement of the MSMA.

Keeping everyone in the loop

To this end, Dorna's Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli spends a lot of his time discussing the future direction of MotoGP and the technical regulations with the MSMA. Changes to the rules are discussed at length first, before being submitted to the GPC.

The MSMA can also put forward their own proposals, and again, if the proposal has unanimous support of all of the manufacturers participating, the GPC will accept that proposal.

What this means in practice is that the manufacturers in MotoGP control the technical regulations, as long as they are unanimous. As stated, this is part of the contract factories sign with Dorna for each five-year period (the current period started this year, and will run through 2026).

Why do the factories insist on control of the technical regulations? Because the biggest thing they want is stability of the rules. Each rule change means extra effort is needed to adapt their bikes to the new rules. And extra effort means extra resources, in terms of engineering, personnel, and as a consequence, money.

Long-term thinking

Adjusting to rule changes tends to be a multi-year effort as well, with lessons learned in the first year being incorporated and refined in subsequent seasons. Small changes can be made from year to year, or even within a year if sufficiently insignificant. But factories want advance warning of major changes which will significantly impact bike design and behavior, and want them kept to a minimum.

The agreement the factories have with Dorna is that major changes will only happen at the start of a new contract period. For example, the switch to 800cc capacity was introduced in 2007, after the first MotoGP contract period ended. The switch back to 1000cc came in 2012 in the following period. Fully spec electronics were introduced in 2016, a year before the start of the new contract period, but that was a process which had been underway since 2012, and the introduction of the CRT class, which became the Open class, which brought in the spec ECU.

There were no major changes to the technical rules for 2022, in part due to the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the next big change will be in 2027, when MotoGP will switch to fully carbon-neutral fuels, with a switch to 40% carbon-neutral fuels from 2024.

All for one and one for all?

What does this mean for Dorna banning ride-height devices or aerodynamics? They could submit a proposal tomorrow, but it would be rejected by the MSMA forthwith. Dorna simply doesn't have the power to do so. (Though there may be a loophole, but more on that later.)

That holds true as long as the MSMA are united. And the once-unbreakable unity of the MSMA is now extremely precarious. We have already seen with the front ride-height devices that five of MotoGP's six current manufacturers wanted to get rid of them, and so a proposal from Dorna was accepted by the GPC, because the MSMA were not unanimous.

Even here, though, Ducati, as the only dissident voice, were thrown a lifeline, and given a year's reprieve. Instead of an immediate ban, which was what most parties wanted, the ban was postponed until 2023.

So is MotoGP stuck with ride-height devices and advanced aerodynamics for the foreseeable future? Probably, though there are possible avenues for change to happen.

Let us start with rear ride-height devices. Dorna could not unilaterally submit a proposal to ban rear ride-height devices and get it passed, but as with the front ride-height device, there is a clear split inside the MSMA.

On the one hand, Ducati believe it is a technology they pioneered and which gives them an advantage. They do not believe they should be punished for their innovation within the rules. But on the other hand, the four remaining MSMA members see no clear use for ride-height devices in production bikes. On a road bike, they can achieve the same effect more efficiently and effectively using electronics to control ride height, instead of the massively complex system of plumbing used to get around the ban on electronically controlled suspension in MotoGP.

At the Technical Directors press conference at Aragon, both Aprilia and KTM expressed their opposition to the technology. "Our general thinking about these devices is to possibly ban all of them as soon as possible," Aprilia engineer Romano Albesiano said. "It's just a complication, something that will never reach production. The rules ban the possibility to make a proper rear device."

KTM's Sebastian Risse agreed. "I agree with Aprilia. The one really outstanding not to be used is the ride-height device, because this technology is actually behind what could be implemented in any street bike anyway." Electronically controlled preload and damping, adjusted on the fly, is already a commonplace on many premium road-going motorcycles, so chasing the same effect through hydraulics was pointless.

Could a ban on ride-height devices happen? It looks entirely possible. It won't happen for 2023, but there is reason to be optimistic of it happening in 2024.

What about aerodynamics? Here, the situation is different. The factories and the riders see the benefits of aero, and would be unhappy to lose them. The wings have given riders much more feel at the front in braking, the front wheel staying stuck to the ground. They also make it easier to control the bike in the straight, the wheel now on the ground instead of in the air.

And aerodynamics has progressed so much that the factories have a much better understanding of the technology. What started as anti-wheelie is now transforming into ways to improve corner speed, braking, as well as exit.

In contrast to ride-height devices, aerodynamics is an area where there is direct transfer to technology to street bikes. Ducati's Technical Director, Davide Barana, set out how the Bologna factory had used the lessons learned. "It's an important area," Barana said. "The proof that it is important also in motorcycling is that we transfer our technology also into production bikes. Our Panigale was the first bike with the winglets, and also our Multistrada V4 was developed with the same group that developed the MotoGP bike, using the same tools, the same simulation tools, wind tunnel capabilities, to not only get the performance but also to assess as much as possible the comfort of the bike. For example, the Multistrada is not a sports bike but a touring bike. For Ducati, it's a very important asset and we will try to keep it as it is."

The enormous progress made in understanding aerodynamics is now visible on the bikes. What started with simple wings near the nose of the bike to keep the front end down has grown into something far more complicated. Upper wings, to control wheelie. Side pods, to provide stability and downforce while affecting the agility of the bike less. Ducati's lower air ducts to reduce pressure and create downforce while the bike is leaned over. And Aprilia's new wide lower fairing, which creates a kind of ground effect in the corner.

The use of aerodynamics has been limited before, when wings were banned and looped aerofoils replaced them. That change was made without approval of the MSMA, because of the sole provision to change the technical rules without them. That change was deemed to be necessary on safety grounds, which came along with a number of other stipulations, such as a minimum radius for leading edges.

That safety exemption could be applied again, in some cases. For example, physical stresses on riders' bodies have grown so great that arm pump surgery is almost compulsory to be competitive. The bikes are braking so late, in part thanks to aerodynamics and ride-height devices, that riders are constantly having to deal with 1.5G or more on their forearms, while also still trying to operate front brake and throttle with the subtlety necessary to go fast.

If Dorna did want an opening to restrict this kind of technology, then the physical safety of riders could be it. But they would still have to try to sell this argument politically, and get the MSMA members to at least accept its validity.

So, to answer the question we began this with. Can Dorna ban ride-height devices and aerodynamics? No, not unilaterally. But that does not mean we are stuck with the technologies forever. There appears to be a majority inside the MSMA to ban ride-height devices in the short term. But aerodynamics appear to be here to stay for the foreseeable future.


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Source: 
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Comments

If you can’t go in the front door use the side door: aero only works because the tyres allow it to.
Now we’re talking about updating tyres to allow even more downforce. Why reward development going in a direction that is detrimental to the sport?

 

So if there will be penalties for exceeding minimum front tire pressures then more riders may be crashing due to tires not suited for the areo/shapeshifters, plus bike performance exceeding human capabilities due to the same technologies, there's your safety argument. Next year may get very ugly.

But...I understand there's political process.

 

 

So manufacturers who weren’t as clever as Gigi want to ban an innovation because it would never reach a production bike? 

Could you have them give me a list of production bikes I can buy today with pneumatic valves? please and thanks 👍

Yes, agreed.. or carbon brakes, or seamless gearboxes, or <300mm windscreens, the list of “no road going applications” is a toilet paper roll long.
But it is a different argument: most of this stuff has a one off cost, where aero and shapeshifters are a blackhole of spending. Spend all you like on a better pneumatic valve system and the gains are infinitesimal….with no knock on effects that ruin the racing or make the tyre supplier look bad, despite the incredible and rapidly increasing load they are under.

 

Pneumatic valves are allowed because desmodromic valves are allowed. Seems like all roads lead back to Bologna.

Regardless, pneumatic valves don’t control the bike on behalf of the rider, unlike ride height and aero which exist to alter weight-bias, wheelbase, bike pitch, etc. in ways the rider cannot.

(not a native English speaker)
"The caveat here is that they only have a veto if the MSMA are unanimous, i.e. all six (or from next year, five) factories have to agree" 
This sounds like MSMA only has veto if all factories are against a proposed technical regulation change, so if ex. KTM or Aprilia support the ban, Ducati can't veto it (so, if Dorna can get one factory to agree, the rule will pass)?

Your interpretation is correct. This is what happened in about 2012  Dorna had proposed raising the minimum weight from 153kg to 160kg, and the MSMA reported that they had rejected that proposal. This was when it was just Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati were in MotoGP. But Ducati wanted the weight increase, and told the GPC that they disagreed with the Japanese factories. So the GPC pushed through the weight increase, though they compromised on 157kg. Here's the story I wrote about it at the time.

Now, with five manufacturers, just having one factory disagree with the others would not be enough to push through a rule change. This remains a political process, and Dorna want the factories to keep racing. That means they need as many factories on board with the changes as possible. So they wouldn't push through a change which the MSMA rejected 4-1. But they would push through a change the MSMA agreed with 4-1.

Or... removal of the single tyre supplier rule?  A return back to the days when Dunlop, Bridgestone and Michelin graced the grid, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, allowing motorcycle and tyre manufacturers further freedom for development? Sure it may lead to processional racing when one brand significantly outperforms another (anyone remember the Indianapolis furore in 2005?) however it would eliminate all the bikes being adapted to suit a singular strength of a tyre manufacturer. 

I think aero is the big devil. I think it is also the most difficult to ban because no matter what the rules say aero will always be present, the bikes do not run in a vacuum. Restrict, maybe. However, any attempt to restrict 'aero' will lead to manufacturers spending even more money trying to regain what they have lost.

I do think there is some possibility that banning ride height devices will have a decent impact on aero as it stands now. The pitch of the chassis changes between accelerating and braking and so the pitch of the aero devices change also. A change in pitch of an aero device can change the amount of downforce generated and correspondingly the amount of drag produced. A 'low drag' aerofoil under acceleration and a high drag snowplow on the brakes. Ride height devices provide the best of both worlds.

Without ride height devices this change in pitch can only come via more normal means. I wonder what the speed traps would say if a Ducati forgot to engage the ride height device(s). I have a feeling it would still have no problem keeping its front on the floor but would be a good amount slower down the straight. They could change the height of the bike, shift the mass around, change the geometry and soften the springs in order to achieve some 'required' level of pitch change but this then becomes a compromise directly linked to all the typical aspects of bike performance. They would lose the 'state shift' of the ride height devices and possibly have to run with cleaner aero, less drag, less turbulence.

I do think the Ducati is currently a two state bike. On its nose high drag snowplow and a dropped flat aerofoil dragster. They've struggled with the bit between but seem to have a good handle on that this year too.

The easiest way to ban ride height devices is to just allow ride height to be controlled electronically, just like on road bikes. Since the ECU and software are both spec, this is also way cheaper than anything else.

Ban the hydraulic devices without this and the factories will find something else to achieve the same effect. This always happens. Anti-wheelie was an electronic thing before 2016. After it was banned the factories turned to aero to solve the same problem. Dual clutch transmission was banned. Factories spent millions upon millions developing seamless gearboxes. Road relevance is, ironically, irrelevant.

Let them do it electronically and save everyone a whole load of money. Plus it actually directly relates to road bikes.

Even if they allowed the factories to have complete electronic freedom, anti-wheelie software would never replicate the effect of wings. Ducati were running wings in 2015 so I'm not sure if wings were a result of spec electronics or an attempt to take better advantage of the increase in capacity from 800cc to 1000cc. Wings increase the amount of torque that it is possible to put through the rear before the front lifts....it makes the front very heavy without the extra inertia that comes with mass. Anti-wheelie software just manages the torque for the rider.

Hydraulic ride height is killing the sport slowly and expensively. Things will be better when the sport can be killed quickly and cheaply?

The goal is not to let corporations control MotoGP with IP. The goal is to protect the sport and its rapidly fading entertainment value.

Aero & ride height devices were developed to cope with the increasing speeds & lack of electronics on such powerful bikes. When synthetic fuels are introduced (partial 2024/ 100% 2027?) will the expected power drop obviate the need for aero/ devices, at least at first? 

Racing series seem to struggle with the rule making where something is banned but is then commonly implemented on road going vehicles. Electronic suspension in F1 was banned due to the expense and Williams destroyed everyone but now it’s super common in cars but still banned in F1. Why?

Same with MotoGP for ride height devices,  the hyper complicated, impractical system was created to circumvent a restriction on electronic suspension even though it’s in common use on road motorcycles. Not even the top of the range, unobtainium bikes either.

Personally I think they should allow tech that’s commonly available in production motorcycles. I suppose you could make the argument that’s what production-based series like WSBK are for but it just seems arbitrary at this point. The argument seems mostly to hinge on costs but if the manufacturer is developing multiple systems across the production and racing activities, that’s definitely not cheaper.

I think it's a case what you do with that tech. In the case of f1 they were using active suspension not to change the mechanical characteristics of the car but change the aero of the car. System has an issue and due to the levels of aero used, exit stage left...no warning, sudden, fast. The aero developed to be very sensitive because they had control of the attitude of the car, until they didn't. That is the direction MotoGP is heading albeit on an entirely different scale. I think WSBK still allows electronic suspension provided it is homologated and the 'active' parts of the suspension must remain unchanged from the homologated version. It's limited to the road version because the road version is limited by the need to fail safe.

Not really much different to what’s happening in F1 now with flexing floors. 

in general the problem always seems to be a case of people thinking they can write perfect rules to make things fair. It’s either the smartest or the richest that circumvents strict rules maybe it’s the cheat-iest but it just keeps happening. 

Stock series racing isn’t that interesting but that’s where the perfect rule book takes you I think. 

Maybe. I don't know what's going on in f1 these days because it died as a sport many years ago. I get the idea of aero parts flexing under load to achieve a desired effect, MotoGP wings have a load test I think. There's a difference between flexing and actuating. Flexing is completely passive, it is a part reacting to applied load. If it is on the bike in a race it has been tested, is a known quantity and provided it doesn't faitgue off into the undergrowth it will continue to work. Swing arm, spring or aero part, same same.

I don't know. The old RZ Cup way back in the day I always thought was great fun. Even there, of course, you'd find cheaters ... I can recall us disqualifying one (who was later a multiple AMA champ) for cheater fuel ("I didn't know! Must have been our mechanic!"). And at one point we ended up taking the ignition boxes out of all the bikes and handing them out randomly before each race because we knew some smart guys were playing with them. Still, overall a good series with a world-wide interest and an international race of national champions at the end of the year.

You really want to make them a lot different? (GPOne did a thing yesterday with lap times claiming that Bautista on his WSBK bike would be about 10th in a Moto GP race). No regulations for Moto GP. Maybe a displacement cap. Otherwise, do what you want, run what you brung. Yeah, money would obviously rule, but if you think it doesn't now you are dreaming (possible current abberrations, admittedly, Suzuki and Aprilia). On the other hand, no question that unlimited budgets lead to poor racing eventually. For example, my favourite racing cars/series ever was the early Can-Am series, leading to a number of wild vehicles that were fascinating (and sounded wonderful as the engines got bigger and bigger!) but really weren't overly successful. Then Porsche arrived with unlimited money and big turbos (and Roger Penske and Mark Donohue) and finally destroyed the series completely. But my word, what a run it was! Hey, might be worth a try. How cool were things back in the Sixties ... five-cylinder 125s? Yowza!

I agree at least at some level. I miss the technical variance we used to get. Even the 5 cylinder Honda was interesting compared to all running the same thing. I suppose the optimal solution is eventually found but I’d prefer organic evolution to one optimum than a 1000 page rule book. 
 

/old man shakes fist at cloud

The organizing body was there and is responsible for creating the framework for the rules and how rules are changed.

Now they have to work with what they allowed.

 

I'm glad there is at least an opportunity to rid the sport of ride height and aero, though the battle to rid MotoGP of the latter, may require the demise of someone or something to give the MSMA a clear head. Maybe the riders can fix the issue before someone gets hurt. There have been a few close calls, like Rins at LeMans or Oliviera(?)vs. Aleix at Mugello. 

Not against high tech, but don't mess with the riders. Pneumatic valves, carbon brakes, carbon fiber subframes and thinga-ma-jigs, synthetic carbon neutral fuels are all fun, and none of them mess with the rider plying his trade. That should be the standard, not some haphazard comparison between production bike technology and race bike technology, which are not really comparable. 

I'm also happy to see that some of the riders are finally speaking out against Moto3. Sad that it took a death in SS300, but these draft pack classes for kids are not cool. Age restrictions are coming, but that might not be the silver bullet. We'll have to see what the SBK Commission and GP Commission develop for the future. Hopefully, they won't reintroduce lack of parity between the machines. Already been down that road. Maybe they have a better idea. We'll see.