When Colin Chapman unveiled Graham Hill’s futuristic Lotus 49B with its innovative wings at the 1968 Monaco grand prix, he changed the face of motor racing forever; well he almost did. Since that summer day in Monaco, wings and other aerodynamic devices have been used on road and race cars galore, but there’s always been one form of motorsport that’s never made use of these aerodynamic aids: motorcycle racing.
That’s not to say that people haven’t tried to make wings work on bikes, however. Mike Hailwood’s 1980 Suzuki RG500 Isle of Man TT bike used small wings (also known as strakes and winglets) either side of the fairing to keep the front wheel down - essential on the undulating Manx circuit - and eccentric physicist Rodger Vincent Freeth went the whole hog and fitted Formula 1-inspired wings to his 1977 Yamaha TZ750. Neither design proved to be very effective.
After those unsuccessful experiments, wings were virtually forgotten about in the world of motorcycle racing. So you can imagine the press’ surprise when Ducati unveiled a Desmosedici with a small set of winglets at the 2010 German grand prix. With that, wings were officially back, and from that day on Ducati and Yamaha have continued to experiment with these aerodynamic devices, even if the results have been questionable. For example, Ducati believes that its specially designed winglets create enough downforce to stop the bikes from wheeling down the straights, thus allowing the riders to get on the power earlier and harder. Whereas other teams like Yamaha have expressed that the difference on the YZF-R1 is negligible, with rider Valentino Rossi stating that he didn’t ’feel a difference’ at the recent 2016 Sepang winter test.
Regardless of the measurable effects, Ducati has decided to plough on with the technology. In fact, for 2016, the Bologna-based team has gone a bit mad, adding a second set of painted winglets to the bike. There’s no doubt that they look absolutely incredible, but there are serious concerns about their safety. For one, the wings might cause harm if riders touch one another at high speed, a regular occurrence in GP racing. And secondly, some riders have already complained that last year’s Ducatis generated ‘dirty air’, making slip-streaming dangerous. Sprouting larger wings is only going to be make these problems worse.
For the time being these wings are legal which, on the face of it, is great news because we love seeing innovative developments in motorsport. But then again, one of the things that we love about motorcycle racing is the ‘rubbing is racing’ attitude of the racers and the epic high speed duels. If these new wings reduce overtaking, and create fewer opportunities for battles, we’d rather do without.
What do you think, CTzens? Do you want to see wings on bikes or is this a step backwards?