As four MotoGP constructors lodged a protest against Ducati’s controversial winglets in Qatar, F1 and the motorcycling premier class have never been this close before.
Following Andrea Dovizioso’s spectacular win over reigning champion Marc Marquez at the season opener in Qatar, Honda, Suzuki KTM and Aprilia issued a complaint to the race direction over a potential technical regulations’ breach. The Losail paddock has never been through a more intense turmoil after a MotoGP race, as controversies and rumours started flowing and spreading exponentially. Team representatives and engineers kept rushing back and forth from the race direction, until it was announced in the middle of the night that the case would be referred to the FIM Court of Appeals in Geneva on March 22nd.
Therefore, the results of the Qatar GP have been frozen until the final decision. It turns out to be something unprecedented for the sport, as MotoGP is not used to protests and regulations-related controversies between factories. In fact, a similar situation would be more common and globally accepted in Formula 1, where the best team reads through the lines of the technical regulations and pushes aerodynamic solutions to the limits, in order to gain as much as possible out of the so-called ‘grey areas’.
Ducati has always mastered these skills, as its engineers have recently come up with innovative concepts and updates, until they took their 2019 project to the next level by showing off numerous never-before-seen items on their bikes.
One of those is the winglet everyone has been talking about since last Sunday. And here comes another F1 reference. Massimo Rivola, who switched from Ferrari’s four to Aprilia’s two wheels at the end of 2018, emerged as one of the strongest supporters of the protest against Ducati for the sake of a transparent behaviour from the technical direction.
"In the last race of last year, in Valencia, Yamaha used a kind of spoon attached to the swingarm that dispersed water in the event of rain and was considered legal on safety grounds," Rivola revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport in a recent interview.
Rivola later outlined that MotoGP technical director Danny Aldridge had forbidden the permission to develop a similar device, as it was allowed only in wet conditions.
"That solution opened our eyes. So much so that at the beginning of the year we asked the technical delegate if we could go and develop something in that area, where we know there is performance to be gained. Aldridge's answer on February 19 reiterated however that a similar solution can only be mounted in wet conditions. As a result, we stopped."
"What I find serious is that the email in which we were denied a similar solution was dated February 19, and after a week there is another one that was clearly studied at length by Ducati."
Two entities with F1 backgrounds certainly make an impact, especially while clashing. The bitterness between rivals who did not grasp each other’s solutions clearly expands off the track. When a team cannot catch its rival on the track, a dangerous attempt to do so comes when the machinery is peacefully resting inside the garage.
As previously stated, Ducati made a peculiarity out of its outstanding technical ingenuity and it totally coincides with Rivola’s words. In fact, the Borgo Panigale-based team recently built its recent campaigns on subtle details along with pushy development and F1-esque internal politics.
The latter is the most interesting aspect of the past two years at Ducati, culminating in the Map 8 team order to Jorge Lorenzo at Sepang in 2017. Andrea Dovizioso won the Malaysian Grand Prix, another controversy-struck race due to the unusual team order the Italian outfit enabled. In that case, the context of MotoGP highlighted the incompatibility of the sport with F1’s commonly applied team orders as a strategy. The charge of such a gesture was later corroborated by the internal dynamics within the Ducati garage. The whole team would lean towards Dovizioso’s persona rather than Lorenzo, at least until the Spaniard stopped getting the wrong end of the stick and started picking up some wins.
Ducati always stood out on the grid owing to these small but meaningful revolutionary features, which are paradoxically closer to F1 than they are to MotoGP.
The motorcycling premier class has also been characterised by the absence of prolonged protests concerning sporting or technical rule breaches. Even the whole Rossi-Marquez feud in late 2015 was a symptom of the FIM’s inexperience in treating such a problematic situation, lacking clarity and proper rules’ mastery.
Therefore, Ducati’s Qatar case appeared even more complicated, requiring further analyses at the Court of Appeals. As former Ferrari engineer Toni Cuquerella told motorsport.com: "In F1, aerodynamics have had a major impact on the performance of the cars for the past 30 years. In motorcycling, the impact is smaller, so it's normal that FIM is not used to dealing with this kind of cheekiness”.
No wonder if this will stand for an impromptu revolution in the MotoGP universe, which was distantly triggered by F1.