In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | March 27, 2019

In The Paddock

COLUMN

Innovation Versus Immolation

What a fortnight it’s been–smoldering resentment after the Qatar GP protests followed by crackling flames at Jerez when the all-new E-bike series turned itself into toast midway through the test program. Luckily, it happened while none of the riders were on board.

These incandescences might appear to be unrelated, but they are linked, albeit from opposite directions. Both have to do with innovation. The first is an attempt to crack down on it, the second smacks of a bit too much enthusiasm—as in trying to run before being able to walk.

The Qatar protest against Ducati came straight after the opening round, and while promptly over-ruled, an immediate appeal meant that results would not be finalized until the whole legal rigmarole has been completed. They involved the wings/not-wings nature of contemporary grand prix bike bodywork.

Ducati's wings are back in the news.
Wings. Back in the news.

Ducati chief Gigi Dall’Igna has complained clearly and repeatedly about MotoGP’s ever-tighter aerodynamic restrictions. He pioneered the use of wings and would like to see further development. Chafing against strictures that limit size and shape, and freeze designs (just one update allowed in each season), he has clearly read the rulebook very carefully to find ways around the latest regs.

These took the form of not just a rack of three box wings on each side, but mysterious add-ons, whose function is not immediately apparent.

Up front, a sector of the wheel below the spindle is covered with a flat sheet of carbon fiber, covering even a segment of the lower part of the rim (and now and then fouling the tire). The best guess as to its purpose is to prevent turbulence in air moving towards the radiator. Secondly, fitted under the swingarm is a sort of scoop with a little chin. Guesswork again: is it a device to direct cooling air to the tire? Or conceivably also to generate downforce?

If the latter, it would appear to circumvent the 2019 regulations, which explicitly ban “devices or shapes … that may provide an aerodynamic effect,” but only if they are “protruding from the fairing or bodywork.”

Innovation could be Dall’Igna’s middle name. Since his 2013 arrival (ironically from Aprilia), Ducati has been by far the most innovative of manufacturers. And at Qatar pretty easily the winningest. Certainly, streets ahead of Aprilia, though with Dovizioso cannily slowing the pace to keep the field packed tight (making a rather bogus super-close race of it) Aprilia’s latest iteration ridden by never-give-up Aleix Espargaro was able to get 10th.

Still, with new team boss Massimo Rivola fresh from Ferrari and the back-biting world of F1, Aprilia managed to persuade Honda, Suzuki, and KTM (though significantly not Yamaha) to protest against the Desmo’s bits and pieces.

If you can’t beat them on the track (as if!), beat them in the jury-room instead.

Ducati’s devices were seen in pre-season testing and pre-race practice. Qatar winner Dovizioso only fitted his on race day, but both teammate Petrucci and satellite teamster Jack Miller had been sporting them. They had passed scrutiny by tech director Danny Aldridge, whose word in these matters is law. So the belated post-race protest left an unpleasant taste.

Suzuki has spoken for the group in a self-justifying monologue. It was not a vindictive witch-hunt, insisted team boss Davide Brivio. They merely seek clarification of the rules. And the timing of the protest? They were obliged to wait until after the race because that’s how the system works.

Which may be true. However, it still smacks of a spiteful foot-stamping snowflake justifying bad behavior with the immortal words: “Now look what you’ve made me do.”

More importantly, it might squelch potentially significant design innovations.

This, in turn, further devalues the importance of grand prix racing. Is it about technical as well as sporting excellence? Or is it merely entertainment and marketing? Which would make it right that the machines be dumbed down to the extent that all races are artificially close. (Funnily enough, however, the same riders and the same brands tend to win.)

Dorna’s thrust, in the name of cost control, has been to make the machines ever more mundane and equal. The attack on Ducati likewise. Hand in hand, these forces attempt the impossible task of making mediocrity marvelous.

So for MotoGP, here’s my plea—let’s have innovation, not enervation.

Dorna is seeking new horizons, however, over in the E-bike paddock, scene of the fire that cut Jerez tests short and required the calendar to be rewritten. This is another self-congratulatory exercise but can at least claim not just the moral high ground but also value in technical innovation and development.

So Dorna push development forward in one area, hold it back in another.

The Jerez fire suggests the former approach doesn’t work any better.

So let’s have innovation, but not immolation.CN

 

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.

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