How skyscrapers made Ducati’s Desmosedici fly!


Three of Ducati’s game-changing MotoGP technologies were created by an engineering genius you’ve probably never heard of…

Robin Tulule in front of skyscrapers

Tuluie and some skyscrapers, which helped him create a vital new gadget that helped transform Ducati from MotoGP loser to winner

Chippy Wood

German-born astrophysicist and former motorcycle racer Robin Tuluie has worked with Gigi Dall’Igna on Ducati’s MotoGP project since 2016. Tuluie is sworn to secrecy about his role at Borgo Panigale, but I can give you a good idea of what he does there by telling you what he did when he was with his previous two employees, the Renault and Mercedes Formula 1 teams.

At Renault, Tuluie and his team created the first tuned mass damper used in motor racing, which helped Fernando Alonso win the 2005 F1 title. A few years later at Mercedes, Tulie and his team created a hydraulic ride-height regulator that took Lewis Hamilton to the 2014 F1 crown. At Mercedes his job title was about as cool as it gets: chief scientist.

Both these technologies were subsequently banned from F1, simply because they gave such a huge advantage.

Tuluie is one of the most important engineers in MotoGP, even though most people inside the paddock have never heard of him

After working his magic at Mercedes, Tuluie became Director of Vehicle Technology at Bentley and also started working at Ducati, because both the British luxury car brand and the Italian motorcycle manufacturer are owned by the same company, the VW Group, which also owns Audi and Porsche.

Ducati dominates MotoGP for many reasons, including these three game-changing technologies: the Desmosedici’s tuned mass damper, which damps out chatter and suspension pump, as well as its hydraulic ride-height device and its hydraulically activated holeshot device, which both reduce wheelies to increase acceleration.

Is that a good enough clue for you?

I’m not allowed to talk with Tuluie about Ducati, so instead I ask him how and why he created his new technologies at Renault and Mercedes. Then I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions. And if you arrive at the right answer you’ll realise that Tuluie is one of the most important engineers in MotoGP, even though most people inside the paddock, let alone outside, have never heard of him.

Enea Bastianini on Ducati MotoGP bike

Factory rider Enea Bastianini engages his GP23’s ride-height device, to reduce wheelies, exiting a corner during pre-season testing


Tuluie has always been into motorcycles. He raced in the USA in the 1980s and in the 1990s created his own race bike, the Tularis, powered by a 700cc two-stroke Polaris snowmobile engine, which was probably the first motorcycle design determined by computer simulation. The bike set lap records and won championships in the US.

When he started at Renault in 2004 he had been working as a vehicle dynamics simulation expert at MTS Systems, an American testing and simulation business that works across a range of industries.

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In late 1970s MTS invented the tuned mass damper, to stop skyscrapers swaying in the wind. The first building to use this technology was the 70-storey John Hancock Tower in Boston. MTS installed two 300-ton lead weights near the top of the tower, which were attached to the building by springs and shock absorbers. These slide this way and that on a lubricated steel plate to counteract swaying motions created by the wind.

While preparing for the 2005 F1 championship the Renault team ran into instability problems with its car, which got Tuluie thinking…

“Dino Toso [the team’s head of aerodynamics] called me about a wind-tunnel instability issue,” he recalls. “The car bounced laterally and yawed a bit as it was getting up to speed. I looked at this and said, ‘Oh, it’s just like a building in the wind – we need a tuned mass damper.’

“I knew that because of Neil Peterson, a really phenomenal engineer at MTS. When you walked into his office there was this model of a building with a tuned mass damper, the John Hancock Tower.

“We created a little simulation model [of Tuluie’s F1 mass damper], utterly basic, just to reproduce it, and optimised the positioning. It made its way into the wind-tunnel and the car was just fantastic. It solved the problem. Then Bob Bell [Renault’s F1 technical director] walks into my office, sits down and says, ‘Do you think you can make it work in the car?’.

Accumulator on Ducati Desmosedici

Inside the nose of the GP23’s fairing is an accumulator, a hydraulic pressure storage reservoir. When the rider operates the holeshot or ride-height devices the accumulator’s three pistons drop to displace damper fluid within the rear shock to lower the bike to reduce wheelies


“It was a question not of legality, but would it work in the car and will it help? So we turned it sideways, so not for yaw but for pitch, put it in the nose on the seven-poster car [a simulator system]. It was three-tenths of a second a lap quicker!”

Tuluie’s computer simulation techniques are so advanced that his mass damper was just as successful on the race track as it had been inside Renault’s computers. And any technology that can magic three-tenths of a second out of nowhere is pure gold, so there’s no doubt that his mass damper helped Renault win the 2005 F1 crown.

From the archive

Mass dampers (also called harmonic absorbers) are used in bike racing to exorcise suspension pump and chatter, a high-frequency vibration at the tyre contact patch, which either makes the rider slow or crash. Chatter can appear at any time, because a motorcycle is a multitude of springs (tyres, frame, swingarm, wheels, front forks, rear shock, triple clamps and so on) and when a certain resonance occurs between any of these springs you get chatter, which can be hellishly difficult to fix. Therefore tuned mass dampers are a huge help to riders and engineers.

Ducati’s mass damper sits in the Desmosedici’s seat hump. What’s hidden inside is secret, but we do know, from photos of wrecked bikes, that it includes weights and shock absorbers. The seat hump is the best place for the damper because the moment of inertia increases with the square of distance, so the further away from the machine’s centre of mass the better.

Ducati first raced with its mass damper in 2017. And coincidentally (or not) 2017 was the first time the factory had fought for the MotoGP title since Casey Stoner left at the end of 2010.

Rear seat hump of Ducati Desmosedici

The Desmosedici’s tuned mass damper is hidden in its seat hump, as far as possible from the bike’s centre of mass, to damp out chatter and suspension pump, two great enemies of fast lap times


A few years after Tuluie created the mass damper both him and Bell moved to Mercedes. There Tuluie created his ride-height regulator, a hugely complex hydraulic system designed to maintain the correct ride height – for optimum grip and downforce – in all scenarios: braking, cornering and accelerating. The hydraulic system numbered around two thousand parts (including options) against a total parts count for an F1 car of five to six thousand.

Why did Tuluie do this? Because electronically adjustable suspension is banned in F1, just like it’s banned in MotoGP.

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“We basically built a hydraulic computer,” he continues. “What we weren’t allowed to do by the rules [electronically] we did hydraulically. You can add pressures, you can regulate flows and so on, with networks of valves, accumulators and pistons, which you can think of as resistors, inductors and capacitors, in an analogue way.

“The system achieved our ride-height goals phenomenally well. Typically we were no more than one millimetre off, around the whole lap and under all conditions, sometimes within half a millimetre and never worse than two millimetres.”

That’s incredible, from a car hurtling around a racetrack, pulling massive g-forces through each corner and surpassing 200mph on the straights.

Ducati’s holeshot and ride-height devices aren’t hydraulic computers, because they don’t self-adjust. Instead they are operated by the rider, but their parentage is clear. And they’ve both been copied by Ducati’s MotoGP rivals.

It’s important to understand why these gadgets exist – because wheelies are one of the biggest limits to performance and therefore lap times in MotoGP.

Before the start of a MotoGP race the rider turns a lever which compresses the rear shock via a network of valves, accumulators and pistons. This lowers the motorcycle, transforming it into a drag bike, so it wheelies less on the way to Turn 1, so the rider can use more throttle.

Tularis bike

The snowmobile-powered Tularis – designed, tested, built and raced by Tuluie – on its way to breaking the outright Mid-America lap record, with Robert Jensen on board

Tuluie archive

The dynamic ride-height adjuster does the same job exiting corners during races. The rider actuates a switch that lowers the bike on corner exits to reduce wheelies, which again allows him to open the throttle harder.

So there you have it. Like any good race team, Ducati doesn’t only use homegrown technology, it seeks advantage wherever it can find it, from home or abroad.

“You have to remember that winning a world championship is an exercise of being excellent in everything,” Tuluie concludes. “Because the moment you are sub-optimal at one thing, that’s the weak link of the chain.”

Tuluie’s big thing is computer modelling and simulation, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to massively accelerate development in everything from motor sport to the medical, space, aerospace and renewables industries.

He recently founded his own company, PhysicsX, ‘a deep-tech company of scientists and engineers, developing machine learning applications to massively accelerate physics simulations and enable a new frontier of optimization opportunities in physical design and engineering’. One of the company’s current projects is a mechanical heart.

The world is changing. And very fast. So whatever you think of Tuluie’s ground-breaking MotoGP technologies you have to admire his extraordinary ability to think deeper and further to get around problems, at the racetrack and everywhere else.

Thanks to Jack Phillips for his help with this blog