Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - To wing it or not, that is the question is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

To wing it or not, that is the question

Are Ducati’s MotoGP winglets a good idea? Many think not. Which is why they may soon be banned.

Motorcycle racing exists for various reasons, but primarily because people want to race bikes. As Valentino Rossi’s long-time engineer Jeremy Burgess once said: “If you’ve got a bike, two kids, a stopwatch and a piece of dirt, you’ve got yourself a race.”

At a grander level, racing exists because people want to watch it, because people want to make money out of people watching it and because manufacturers want to show off their engineering prowess and learn things that will help them build better road bikes.

Will Ducati build a better road bike thanks to its work with MotoGP winglets? Possibly. Of more concern is what might happen in the meantime.

Winglets, or strakes, to give them their correct aerodynamic name (a strake is longer than it’s wide; a winglet is wider than it’s long) have been around for ages: Mike Hailwood’s Suzuki RG500 wore them when he won the 1980 Senior TT.

The strakes used by Hailwood and by fellow RG rider Barry Sheene gave more downforce to increase front tyre temperature (sometimes useful, sometimes not) and improve high-speed stability, at a small cost to top speed. Suzuki’s strakes measured about four centimetres in width and 30 centimetres in length and didn’t stay around for long. Yamaha experimented with similar-sized strakes in the 1990s, again in the early days of MotoGP, and is having another go now, though it doesn’t seem that convinced.

Thus Ducati is the first factory to work seriously in this area, with the latest Desmosedici sprouting four massive strakes. The main idea is to reduce wheelies, which cost both time and effort, without involving the anti-wheelie electronics that work by dialing out much-needed torque during acceleration. It’s a clever idea, especially in MotoGP’s new era of lower-tech rider aids.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Why do you say it's 'good news' the winglets might be banned? I disagree, banning things just because is not a good road to take.

did you bother reading the entire article which included some pretty gnarly safety issues?

Yes I did. Did you read the article? There have already been regulations put in place to ensure safety.

And fairly vague ones at that. There may be a safety case for removing strakes, but I'm not sure Mat made it. We're a long way from manufacturers just bolting pieces all over the body of the bike left and right, and he either somewhat disingenuously didn't bother to mention or doesn't seem to realize that these pieces are prohibited from extending beyond the widest point on the fairings.

Really not for or against strakes one way or another, but I think if manufacturers' innovations are to be limited for safety concerns that the justification should be a bit less speculative.

The most significant part of the column was the allegation made by an unnamed rider that the Ducati was generating dirty air round Phillip Island that made it harder to follow.

Overtaking is hard enough in MotoGP without making it worse and that's without the safety issues.

I don't think we'll ever see strakes in Moto3 as the bikes are so light, the rider can more then handle an errant wheelie here and there.

It's hard enough to stick in the slipstream of a Ducati anyway regardless of the strakes. And why have we only heard that at Phillip Island? What of Catalunya, Mugello, Argentina, Texas? They all have mighty long straights (if not longer) as well, yet no complaints? Might it be to the unique placement of Phillip Island on the edge of an island?

Maybe we should stop the riders from dangling their legs out in front of the other bikes? Strakes or not, that could likely cause a big accident too. As per the picture in the article, while the strake is close to Rossi's leg, Dovi's front tyre is just as close to Rossi's foot.

As a side note, with a less stiff front tyre and less evolved rider aids, I think more passing will be much more prevalent this season.

Just my 2c.

As an engineer, I am just thinking that the winglet actually add extra centrifugal load to the front end when the bike lean to one side unless the engineer can add gyroscopic winglet that always has horizontal orientation.

I don't think centrifugal force is correct, more like downforce parallel to the bike, which is not perpendicular to the road when leaned over. However, the times when load on the front tyre is a problem is in slow corners - when the strakes will be providing very little assistance.

I think there's a lot of room for robust designs without outright banning the aero improvements. How about, enclosed aero instead of ones which look like protrusions?

As for the complaint of 'dirty' air. I say 'tough titties!'. Slipstreaming is a great tactic in racing, but it's not an implicit right.

I don't want motogp to turn into F1, but I also don't want it to turn into stock car racing.

Were it not for the large radiator, the V4 should have enough width to allow enclosed strakes. The ban should be for those that are exposed.

From the close up photograph of the Ducati in the Motorsport Magazine, I got the impression that going by the definition of winglet and strake the appendage on the top just under the windscreen fairing would more likely qualify to be called a winglet whereas the ones on the fairing cover of the engine qualifies to be called a strake. To me it seems Ducati is using both winglets and strakes. The mention of dirty air suprises me a bit because it does not seem as if aerodynamics on motorcycles have evolved so much that they create the problems associated with aerodynamics of cars.

If I were to hypothetically accept that indeed they do pose problems for overtaking then I see at as good because I have seen the less powerful Suzukis being overtaken by the Hondas as if they were standing still on the pit straight. But ironically it seems that the Ducati that has an engine that has the most power and the greatest ability to keep others behind it, is using strakes, winglets, or whatever else they are called. But this is not the first time that these devices are being tried. I remember one year Casey Stoner also used these in some races, the only difference being they looked far sleeker and were painted white because they were appended to the fairing which was the engine cover.

Racing advantages and dangers of injuries apart they look very ugly, they sort of remind me of the Tyrell Formula1 car that had aerodynamic towers rising up for some 6 feet from the side of the driver and were so terrible to look at that the FIA banned them. I just hope they are banned by the FIM (or will it have to be done by Dorna). The bikes will look much better.

Can we get some popular misconceptions cleared up here?

Firstly, wings / winglets are designed to generate lift (force) in an approximately 90-degree direction to the airflow passing over them. Without going into too much technical detail, short and fat wings ( e.g. those on the current Ducs) generate a fair amount of force for their size - but also a great deal of drag at higher speeds. What is known as 'Aspect ratio' has a great deal to do with that, and if you look at pictures of modern-day high-performance gliders, you will see the extremes of design for lift at low drag - they have enormously long, thin wings.

Strakes are designed to direct the airflow along certain paths - and to add (in the case of aircraft), resistance to the aircraft moving otherwise than along the direction of the passing air. A typical use of strakes is to increase the effective side area of a fuselage so it doesn't spin too fast when upset. Strakes are NOT a different shape of 'winglet': they are not intended to generate force, but drag if not aligned with the airflow.

The original 'winglets' on the 2009-2010 Ducs had NOTHING to do with generating anti-wheelie force: they were designed to generate a negative pressure at the fairing radiator outlets to assist cooling.

The top 'winglets' on the current Ducs WILL have some beneficial downforce on the front, at the expense of drag. The current Yamaha minor strakes are likely to improve the airflow past the rider, but will achieve little more than that.

I've wondered whether they are as much to upset the composure of a bike behind, than anything else, especially with the Ducati's speed making it a slipstreaming target.

My thinking leads me to believe it has more to do with breaking up airflow around the body. The rear of a bike creates turbulent air, so if you direct air over specific parts of the rear it could somewhat correct the flow to create less drag. The lower 'wings' could create a low pressure area at the radiator exhaust to break up any air-dam caused by high pressure. Flow more air, smaller radiator. Smaller radiator, less drag. Win/win.