Ducati is going on the attack. After having been penalised in 2007 with the abolition of the winglets, they have come to Misano with a strange enclosed wheel - a sort of lenticular wheel - used in practice by Michele Pirro, fifth behind Marquez and ahead of Dovizioso.
This is a sign that aerodynamic research has not ground to a halt at Borgo Panigale. And how could it? The aim of racing has always been to improve the product. In its entirety, and seeing as performance is obtained by acting on each detail, why not also condider the aerodynamics?
The mistake, when talking about cost limitation, is to consider the budget as a figure that expands or shrinks depending on what is allowed or banned. It's not like that: the budget is always spent in its entirety and it is well known that those who have more money in racing, spend it.
So we expect to see further innovations in a field in which, up until now, there has been little or no work done in motorcycling. To such an extent that the regulation regarding this is, to say the least, patchy.
In terms of fairings and aerodynamics, we refer to point 18.104.22.168 of the FIM technical regulation that states:
4. When the bike is viewed from the site, it must be possible to see:
a. At least half of the rear wheel.
b. The entire front wheel, with the exception of those parts covered by the mudguard, fork, brakes and removable air ducts.
c. The rider, seated in a normal position with the exception of his forearms.
Note: transparent materials cannot be used as a way to circumvent these rules. Wheel or brake covers are not considered to be part of the fairing that obstructs the view of the wheels.
"As you can see - said a Ducati spokesperson - the wheel brought to Misano is perfectly legal. Now we'll see whether, considering that we're carrying out experiments and perhaps exploring areas that others are not looking it, they will also move to ban this".
But what is the purpose of an enclosed wheel?
It's more useful than it might seem.
An enclosed wheel improves the bike's aerodynamics, creating less turbulance at the rear of the bike. We know this from cycling where, in certain categories, they use lenticular wheels. But that's not all. Better aerodynamics at the rear of the bike also means benefits in terms of hot air extraction from the fairing, and therefore cooling.
The air that exits the fairing is in fact slowed down by turbulence, if this decreases then the exiting flow is faster, the air circulates more quickly from the radiator to the lower part of the bike.
But this is self-evident.
Enclosing a wheel might conceal other motives, such as controlling tyre temperature.
It is clear that tyre performance is increasingly important, getting them quickly up to temperature and keeping them at a stable operating temperature is vital and F.1 teaches us that it's possible to use the heat of the braking system, driven in the wheel, to achieve this aim.
For some time now, F.1 has also been using insulating paints such as Polysil, a silicon film that helps to maintain the heat that, directed onto an F.1 wheel 'costs' just 5 grams rather than the traditional 60.
So what is the field of application of Pirro's wheel? For now Ducati has no intention of revealing it.