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Common Tread

Are Ducati's wings a MotoGP safety hazard?

Feb 29, 2016

In recent years, Ducati's MotoGP bike sprouted wings. Over the off season, they grew. Noticeably.

In fact, the aerodynamic pieces on the D16 GP, as Ducati calls its 2016 MotoGP bike, are so prominent some think they represent a safety hazard and should not be allowed.

Former racer and long-time commentator Mat Oxley was among the first to weigh in with a firm opinion. He feels the wings — which he pointed out should rightfully be called not winglets but "strakes," because of their dimensions — are likely to snag other bikes or racers' bodies in the side-by-side, close-quarters racing we've seen plenty of in MotoGP.

Julian Ryder was another European racing commentator who was surprised by the new wings... I mean, strakes. First he tweeted "They're big!" and then he provided a visual aid for comparison.

Oxley also tweeted that he has already heard talk of outlawing the strakes for 2017.

Ducati MotoGP motorcycle
Both last year and this year, Ducati widened the fairing around the rider's hands (see the black extensions?) so that the wings would meet the letter of the rules and not protrude beyond the widest part of the fairing. Will the rules be changed to prohibit wings? Ducati photo.
So what is the purpose of the double-decker wings on the Ducati? Clearly, Ducati has done a lot of experimenting, because the shape and position of the wings changed several times during the course of the 2015 season. The common explanation is that they provide aerodynamic downforce that helps keep the motorcycle from wheelying under acceleration. The electronics also prevent wheelies, but do so by reducing power, and less power is not what any racer wants.

The problem with the downforce and wheelie explanation is that aerodynamic force increases with the square of velocity. In other words, when the motorcycle is moving 200 mph at the end of the straight, downforce will be four times what it is when the motorcycle is accelerating at 100 mph, when wheelies are more likely. This leads some to wonder if Ducati isn't telling the full story and believes that there are also cornering benefits from the aerodynamic bits.

Ducati MotoGP motorcycle
The Ducati D16 GP. Ducati photo.

Ducati MotoGP motorcylce
Ready to fly. Ducati photo.
Designers have experimented with wings many times over the years, and Yamaha tried something similar to Ducati's winglets at some races last year. The wings on the 2016 Ducati, however, are more prominent than anything we saw in 2015.

Whether the rule book allows them to continue using such pronounced protrusions next year is another question, and may depend on whether they play a role in any rider contact this year.