EVERYTHING YOU WANTED THE FOUR TYPES OF WINGS
MOTOGP TECH SPECIAL MCN gets to the bottom of the new aerodynamic phenomenon hitting Motogp to discover exactly what Ducati, Yamaha and Honda are trying to achieve
Few things have created more controversy in Motogp in recent years than the introduction of wings, winglets, strakes or vanes.
Following a trend started by Ducati and developing into the massive hammerhead shark wings the GP16 machine has now sprouted, Honda and Yamaha are also jumping on the bandwagon, with Jorge Lorenzo taking his winged M1 to victory in Qatar, and both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez testing the features on their Repsol Hondas.
But with the whole area of aerodynamics still relatively new to motorcycling, it’s been a prominent and long-standing piece of technology and development in F1. So to get a better understanding of exactly what the leading manufacturers in Motogp are trying to achieve, MCN sat down with Sauber F1 aerodynamicist Ali Rowland-rouse.
According to Rowland-rouse the objective for the teams is simple, a two fold goal of reducing drag and creating downforce to keep the front wheel pinned to the track under acceleration.
“When you come out of a corner on a Motogp bike, if you don’t have anti-wheelie electronics to rely on, riders use the back brake to keep the front wheel down, and logic says that braking isn’t the best way to get down a straight as fast as possible.
“Working like the wing of a plane (except upside down) the target is to generate downward force; something that’s even more important since new control software for 2016 has reduced the role of advanced anti-wheelie electronics.
“If you can create some kind of downwards force that’s stopping that rotation around the back wheel, then naturally you’re going to get to the end of the straight quicker.”
But big wings on the front of a bike means greater surface area and more drag, something teams are always trying to reduce. And that’s where teams are getting into deep water; by using vortices of ‘dirty’ air that both counter the drag and draw complaints from other riders.
“Right at the edge of the wing, there’s air with energy that will try and spill over the side of the wing, and creates a whirlpool effect. If you direct these vortices down the side of a bike, it can act as a sealing device; it acts almost like double-glazing.
“When the riders are complaining that they’re following someone and getting a vibration, that’s them hitting the vortices coming off the bike,
ALI ROWLAND-ROUSE, SAUBER F1
and it’s not as smooth as following a normal bike. You’ll get a bit of a weave on; if there’s high-pressure air on one side and low pressure on the other, it’ll pull you to one side.”
But, Rowland-rouse is quick to dismiss that this is an intentional tactic to hamper the opposition, admitting that deliberately steering air in such a manner is beyond the capabilities of even teams in high-budget F1.
“I’d go so far as to say that creating dirty air on purpose is absolute nonsense. Actively trying to make a bike hard to follow is extremely hard to do, even F1 teams don’t try to do it! To actually say that a Motogp team are actively designing around that idea is shocking. That’s proper high-level stuff!”
But while safety grounds is one of the reasons many teams and riders are so opposed to wings, there’s another key factor that could speed up their demise in Motogp and that’s cost.
With some car racing teams spending upwards of a million pounds a month to run both computer simulations and wind tunnel tests, there’s a fear that aerodynamics could turn into a black hole for cash.
“If they do manage to ban wings, I don’t think they’ll be able to ban aero development. You’ve got a very clever man working at Ducati, and he’s not going to lose his job just because they ban something. He’ll just be pushed into working in a more restrictive area; at the minute, he’s turned up and said ‘oh, there’s no rules – I can do what I want!’
“Once you’ve learned these things, you can’t unlearn them, and you’ve got big teams with big budgets who will find ways around the rules. It all depends on how you word the rules; F1 teams have engineers employed purely to read the rules and find loopholes! There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle, as long as you have engineers pushing for it and the money to develop it.”
With that in mind and with Dorna and the FIM committing to stability on technical rule changes for five years, it may come down to safety grounds.
“With safety, they can just veto anything a team turns up with, and then it becomes risky to invest £100,000 into a design to be told to take it off at the first round. If they really want rid of it, that’s how it’ll be done – and it is more of a political decision than a pure safety decision.” First debuted by Ducati on the notoriously hot-running GP10 machine, the purpose of Motogp’s original wings wasn’t strictly for aerodynamic purposes, but rather to help with cooling. Positioned just in front of the radiator exhaust, the vortices they created on either side of the bike acted like a giant fan to suck hot air away from the radiator and increase cooling
‘Creating dirty air on purpose is nonsense, even F1 teams don’t do it’
Best demonstrated by the current Ducati, the huge wings on the GP16 machine are there to help glue the front wheel to the ground by acting like the reverse of an aeroplane’s wing. Creating downforce rather than lift, they act to help replace the advanced wheelie control electronics the team has lost with the introduction of control electronics for
this year. Initially seen by many as a gimmick, adding wings to Mahindra’s Moto3 machine may make complete sense; not to add downforce, but to reduce drag. Directing air more smoothly over both the riders hands and feet, it could add a significant effect on long straights. Interestingly, it’s a direct copy of an idea first seen two decades ago on Aprilia’s 125GP
Perhaps the cleverest design seen so far, Dominique Aegerter tested a set of vanes hanging from the seat unit at Qatar, only to have them banned before
the race. Designed to direct the air behind the bike to a point rather than
a dead end, they help close the vacuum a bike creates; a vacuum most noticeable when used by a
rival during slipstreaming.