There is no doubt that some of the most historic races in Formula 1 have taken place in the rain, such as Ayrton Senna’s in Portugal in 1985, Michael Schumacher’s in Barcelona in 1996 and Damon Hill’s in Suzuka in 1994, as well as it seems obviously they would not have happened at this time because these great prizes would not even have started.
That has prompted an inevitable series of criticisms of modern F1, a category that for many has started to become too risk-averse. Given that the safety standards of today’s cars are so high, there are many who argue that what are supposed to be the best drivers in the world should be able to go out on the track and solve the situation themselves.
While the threshold of what is considered an acceptable level of risk has changed over time, there are other crucial factors that are also making life difficult for these 2022 F1s in the rain.
Motorsport.com caught up with GPDA chairman Alex Wurz for his thoughts, and he cited a number of issues, some of which can be changed and others that are and will surely be there forever.
The safety and patience of Formula 1 fans
While there are physical factors, such as car and tire design, that play a key role in a wet race, a critical element that greatly complicates the situation when it rains is the level at which the FIA considers that racing It is safe.
Advances in safety are always welcome in Formula 1, and it would make no sense to go to such lengths to make cars safer and then have a completely nonchalant attitude about letting drivers out under certain weather conditions.
As Wurz, who was involved in the famous chain-link accident on the first lap of the 1998 Belgian GP, put it: “The whole world is moving towards a safety-first attitude.”
“On the one hand you can say that’s bad and it shouldn’t be that way for us. But I think the series has made very good steps forward in terms of improving safety, without compromising overall performance.”
“But we can’t hide from complicated laws, responsibilities, jurisdictions and cases, which influence the world of sport and society. So it’s a factor that has to be there.”
“Changes in society have also played a key role in making rainy race delays a big problem; because think decades ago, fans weren’t hesitant to wait a few hours. Today attitudes are different.” .
“In those times we were much more patient,” he said. “Our life now is focused on a very short attention span, we want everything to go our way, so we’re not patient.”
“Perhaps we all remember that a 30-minute delay in the old days was not as irritating as it is now for the vast majority of fans. That is a fact,” he added.
Chemicals, oils and visibility problems in Formula 1 with these cars
The main element that decides whether or not cars can run in the rain are the tires.
If these can offer good grip without the risk of aquaplaning , that obviously allows races to take place. However, the sum of several factors has made everything more complicated at this time.
As Wurz explains: “Tire manufacturers are no longer allowed to use the same chemicals, oils and other very special products, which made tires unique in the period when there was a compound war in the 90s. and 2000”.
“We also have single-brand tyres. So if you want to increase grip, which I’m sure Pirelli can do, there’s also an important cost factor.”
“The tires are also wider now, which can also be an important factor, because they are more affected by aquaplaning. Also, if they have bigger and wider grooves, there is another problem, and that is that the ridges come down very quickly. .
Pirelli has stated on several occasions and with great pride that its rain tires are capable of removing up to 85 liters of water per second at a speed of 300 km/h.
As Pirelli F1 manager Mario Isola explained in Japan: “With an extreme rain compound, you release three times more water into the air than with the intermediate one.”
But one of the big conundrums with wet tires is that the more water they evacuate, the more dew they kick up into the air, thus worsening visibility for riders.
The answer is not as simple as designing a tire that is even more effective at going over water. In addition, Pirelli also has to take into account the fact that there should be not a very big change between running in extreme rain or with the intermediate, because if the track conditions were too dry for the extreme compounds, it would already be too dry. wet for intermediates, it would be the absolute disaster.
Isola said: “We have tools to modify the tyres, but the problem is visibility.
“In the past a decision was made to have a wider difference between extreme rain, intermediate and dry compounds. We could also modify the tread pattern, but I’m not sure that’s the right direction because, with the loss of visibility, they wouldn’t run at all. Then you run the risk of that famous crossover not showing up for intermission, and that’s an even worse situation.”
The ground effect of F1 cars in 2022, another problem
Looking back, when races were held in conditions that were terrible, it must not be forgotten that the downforce levels of the cars have changed considerably.
And, for 2022, a critical factor that is playing its part in wet racing is the reintroduction of ground effect.
The venturi tunnels that are placed under the ground and the design of some F1 cars that are made to minimize the influence of the air flow that reaches the cars that are behind others, has caused the dew to rise more violently in the wet, making visibility more difficult.
As Wurz puts it: “The downforce is getting higher. It’s also a wider car, so it has more surface area to suck up and that’s why it kicks up more water.”
The attitude of Formula 1 drivers in the rain
Although some fans criticize the drivers for the fact that the races do not take place in heavy rain, Wurz makes it clear that the attitude of the drivers has not changed for many years.
If it’s safe enough to go out for a ride, then they’re more than happy to oblige: “We drivers always say that driving in the wet is fun, even with aquaplaning . Driving in those conditions when you’re on your own is a big challenge and it’s unbelievable.”
“But the moment you don’t see anything anymore, you’re exposed to a very great danger and the slightest of problems can cause a fatality.”
“And this is when you have to applaud the race director for putting safety above all this pressure from the public, from sponsors and so on. Can we do better? Sure.”
“We want to help as much as we can to find a way to improve the situation. But on the other hand we also want to teach fans and stakeholders about the huge challenge and courage it takes to go out on the track when you see nothing, absolutely nothing.” .
“That’s why, while factors like tires and car design are not something that are going to change overnight, there are some ideas like ‘information laps’ that are being discussed between the FIA and GPDA, which could be a small step towards quickly solving some of the problems F1 has been facing lately when it rains before or during a race.