The MotoGP Court of Appeal has ruled that Ducati’s aero spoiler, attached to the bottom of the swingarm of the three Desmosedici GP19s and used in the opening MotoGP race at Qatar, is legal.
The decision of the court means that the race result stands, and that Ducati can continue to use the spoiler going forward.
The decision comes after the Court of Appeal heard a protest, submitted by Aprilia, Honda, KTM, and Suzuki against the ruling by MotoGP Technical Director that Ducati’s device was legal.
After the race, the four factories protested first to the FIM Stewards, who rejected the protest, and then to the FIM Appeal Stewards, who ruled that they needed technical information to judge the merits of the case, and so referred the protest to the MotoGP Court of Appeal.
Last Friday, the Court of Appeal sat in Mies, Switzerland, the offices of the FIM, and heard submissions from Ducati, and from the other four factories who submitted the appeal.
Ducati had Fabiano Sterlacchini present alongside Gigi Dall’Igna, while Suzuki and Aprilia had brought Filippo Petrucci, a Ferrari engineer who had worked with Michael Schumacher in F1 previously, to help present their objections.
The case revolved around the function of the spoiler fitted to the bottom of the Ducati’s swing arm. Ducati claim that it helps to cool the rear tire. The other four factories, Aprilia foremost among them, point to the fact that the spoiler has three horizontal vanes, which must, they claim, create some kind of downforce.
The case was only made possible because Ducati and Aprilia presented swing arm-mounted spoilers to MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge to ask whether they would be legal.
As part of the additional technical guidelines, Aldridge ruled that devices could be attached to the bottom of the swing arm, if they were solely to be used for deflecting water or debris from the rear tire, for the purpose of cooling the rear tire, and “their purpose is not to generate aerodynamic forces with respect to the ground”.
Ducati managed to convince Aldridge that their spoiler was used for cooling the rear tire. No doubt the fact that the spoiler is only fitted together with the front wheel covers helped persuade him of their case.
Aprilia, who had asked to use a device which they were using to generate downforce, and which Aldridge had rejected, decided to protest Ducati’s use of the spoiler.
The MotoGP Court of Appeal has now found in favor of Ducati, ruling that the use of the spoiler was legal, and that they can use the spoiler in future races. This also means that the result of the MotoGP season opener at Qatar stands, and Andrea Dovizioso keeps his race win, and his lead in the MotoGP championship.
This is not the final step in the process, however. Aprilia, Honda, KTM, and Suzuki now have five days to protest against this decision, and appeal it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the CAS. I understand that as yet, no decision on an appeal has been taken, in large part because the FIM only released the decision, and not the reasoning behind the decision.
Without knowing what persuaded the three judges who heard the case, it is hard for the four factories to decide whether an appeal to the CAS would stand a chance.
Lessons for the Future
Two things seem clear from this decision of the MotoGP Court of Appeal. The first is that the MotoGP regulations on aerodynamics are badly in need of clarification. As an example, the technical guidelines issued by Danny Aldridge speak of “attachments to the rear swing arm”.
As some people have pointed out, this is easily circumvented by integrating the spoiler into the shape of the swing arm. These issues will not be solved by issuing further guidelines; it needs a full overhaul of the rules.
Which raises a larger problem. The MSMA, the manufacturers association, are responsible for the technical rules in MotoGP in the first instance. Any proposal for a change to the technical regulations must come from them, with Dorna and the FIM only able to put forward proposals related to safety.
But as I wrote last week, keeping the MSMA together is no longer easy with six factories involved. There are growing signs of splits inside the MSMA, and open recrimination between some of the principals. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna reportedly said in Qatar that he had been faced with “laypeople” on the other side of the table. KTM’s Mike Leitner retorted that “nobody could believe that the race departments of Aprilia, Suzuki, Honda, and KTM only employ laypeople”.
Ducati, and especially Gigi Dall’Igna, have made no secret of their desire to continue to explore the possibilities offered by aerodynamics. The other factories are much less keen, fearing the cost an aerodynamics war might unleash. The chances of the six factories involved in MotoGP being able to produce a unanimous proposal on aerodynamics seem to be close to zero.
The FIM could still adopt a proposal not presented unanimously, of course. The rule book only obliges the Grand Prix Commission to accept technical proposals put forward by the MSMA if all MSMA members agree unanimously.
The other five MSMA members could put forward a proposal which Ducati disagrees with, and Dorna, IRTA, and the FIM could consider it on its merits. Given the aversion inside Dorna and IRTA against aerodynamics, such a proposal should pass the GPC with relatively little resistance.
But that is in the future. First, we must wait and see if any of the four manufacturers decide to appeal the decision of the MotoGP Court of Appeal to the CAS.