To Wing – Or Not to Wing?

Pushing the boundaries of racing, both on and off the track, have stepped up a level in 2016 with the advent of the latest craze in aerodynamics: Front Winglets.

The objective of the winglets is straightforward: to disperse air flow smoothly and efficiently around the side of the bike. With less air resistance to contend with, the machine travels at a higher speed in a straight line. Additionally, the winglet plates assist the bike remain stable in the medium and higher speed corners – essentially anything over 110kph/70mph – thus creating more downforce which enables the bike and rider to obtain the fastest lap time possible.

Ducati have been the leading pioneers in this development, having run ‘prototype’ winglets during the latter part of last season. Add in a full winter testing programme with continual revisions of the aerodynamic elements, and a far more mechanically sound machine than has been in recent years, and the performance gains are clear to see. Regularly topping the speed-trap timesheets, as well as a string of front-row race starts along with podium and top 5 finishes. The Italian outfit has continuously experimented with multiple shapes and positioning of the winglets, in an attempt to limit the drag created by riding in another’s ‘dirty air’, giving the rider a higher chance of being able to overtake quickly.

Ducati Winglets Test

The Ducati bike running its triple-element winglets. The leading pioneers of this season’s aerodynamic development.

With the success of Ducati’s development, the other two leading factory outfits, Yamaha and Honda, have been forced to introduce their own winglets or risk falling behind their rival. Yamaha have focused purely on a single element on the peak of the engine cover and has remained consistent in use since its introduction last month at the American Grand-Prix in Texas. Honda have experimented with different configurations, unveiling their own version of the triple element winglet which flank the wheel covers and air filter.

Yamaha Honda comparison

Yamaha’s winglet has been described as a ‘Tea Tray’ (Left). Honda’s latest configuration, also opting for a triple-element set up (Right).

As is the case in racing when any rapid advancement is successfully made by one team, controversy is never far behind. The governing body of MotoGP – the FIM – initially called for a safety report, after Andrea Iannone (Ducati) suffered a high speed crash during the opening race of the season at Qatar. The FIM, were concerned that the winglets were making the bikes too unstable when following behind each other at higher speeds. However, Ducati were quick to declare Iannone’s crash was due to rider error – and a lack of similar crashes (by anyone) in subsequent races has perhaps proved the team were correct.

Yamaha and Honda have been vocal opponents of the winglets since their introduction. However this is more resulting to having to keep pace with their rivals. Indeed, a comparison can be made to former Formula 1 team, Brawn GP, when they invented the double-diffuser which proved so effective in enabling their cars to secure a strong advantage over the field. Although, Ducati do not lead either the Rider or Constructors’ championships, their aerodynamic innovations have undoubtedly pushed their rivals hard over the opening races.

It is likely however, that this advancement is only to be seen in the premier class. Certainly from next year. Despite Moto3 and 2 fielding bikes with winglets in the opening rounds, Moto3 teams took the decision to voluntarily ban them, citing the money and resources needed to develop the winglets was unjustifiable. It is likely that Moto2 may also discontinue their use after this season. However, with the FIM’s safety concerns allayed, it would appear the factory teams will press ahead to further their development.

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