Why Formula 1 has become afraid of rain. And is there anything you can do about it?
A month ago, we witnessed one of the most controversial and scandalous Grand Prix of recent years, when difficult weather conditions at the Spa-Francorchamps track puzzled the race management. For more than three hours, formula fans expected at least some action, but the racers that day limited themselves to three laps behind the safety car. On this, the actual race was over.
It would seem that the Belgian events could be called something out of the ordinary, but after just a couple of weeks we saw something similar on the track in Sochi. Due to the vagaries of nature, most of the races scheduled for Saturday had to be canceled and even the first Formula 3 race had to be postponed to Friday. Thank God, the weather did not disappoint on Sunday and we were able to fully enjoy the races at Sochi Autodrom. However, the racing weekend on the Black Sea coast only confirmed the fact that in recent years it has become more and more difficult to conduct rain races in F1. What’s the matter?
The current Formula 1 race cars are poorly adapted to the rainy race
After the organizational farce at Spa-Francorchamps, the fans involuntarily began to ask themselves: what has become our beloved Formula 1? In the minds of many fans, Royal Races are home to some of the world’s strongest pilots. So why has rain suddenly become such a problem for the best riders on the planet?
The long history of Formula 1 remembers many cases when the pilots went to the start in not the most favorable weather conditions. Here you can cite as an example the dramatic race on the Fuji track in 1976, and the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, and even an incredibly spectacular race in Canada that took place just 10 years ago.
Yes, there were situations when some pilots refused to participate in very extreme weather conditions (the most famous example is Niki Lauda during the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix). You can also remember that in previous years the races were stopped due to the raging elements – the race in Adelaide in 1991 lasted only 16 laps. Nevertheless, even in heavy rain, the race management repeatedly gave the command – to start.
So what hinders the stable conduct of races in today’s realities? The main reason for the incompatibility of the wet track and the current F1 is, first of all, modern race cars. Due to the structural features of today’s cars, rain races have become a very problematic event. We can say that modern cars are the most unsuitable for racing in the rain in the history of F1. The fact is that the aerodynamics of current cars is the reason for the wall of water spray that fireballs leave behind them when it rains. Chasing someone in such conditions is simply unrealistic, since the competitor in front creates almost zero visibility for his counterpart.
The first thing you need to pay attention to is the impressive width of current cars, due to which a greater air flow passes through the car, and, accordingly, there will be more spray of water spray. In addition, not only the cars have increased in width, but the tires, which also began to evacuate more water. Plus, the complicated aerodynamics of modern cars not only lifts, but also keeps in the air that considerable amount of moisture that flies out from under the wheels of the car.
And so it turns out that the specifics of today’s race cars become the cause of recurring difficulties when conducting races in rain conditions. There is some hope for the cars of 2022, however, not everything is so simple with them. On the one hand, radically updated cars will have reduced aerodynamics, which in theory can solve the above problems with abundant evacuation of water into the air. On the other hand, next year’s cars will be equipped with a profile bottom, which, in turn, will be able to give a more powerful ground effect and, as a result, only increase the difficulty of carrying out rain races.
The FIA itself creates difficulties in organizing rain races
In addition to the characteristics of modern race cars, the organization of races in the rain is also hampered by some decisions of the FIA. After the sensational race in Spa, one might get the impression that the International Federation does not understand at all what to do in emergency situations, which now include the vagaries of the weather. However, it should be admitted that some conclusions were made by the FIA, and in the last racing weekend at Sochi Autodrom, the race management made a couple of successful decisions. For example, upon learning of an impending storm, officials rescheduled the Formula 3 race from Saturday to Friday – a bold and surprisingly correct decision by the federation. However, at some points, the race management is still inclined to be overly cautious.
So, for example, the cancellation of the first Formula 2 race is not entirely clear. Yes, we can say that on Saturday, before 15:00 local time, all races on the track in Sochi were canceled. But at the same time, you need to understand that in Formula 2, during the rain races, they do not face the difficulties that the pilots of the Royal Races have. The fact is that the F-2 cars have much more simplified aerodynamics than the F-1 cars. The cars of the junior racing series are much smaller in size and do not have complex aerodynamic structures. Accordingly, it is much easier for them to race in the rain, which was demonstrated by Formula 3 at the Spa-Francorchamps track.
Possible solutions: other cars and asphalt. But not tires
We asked the head of the Pirelli motorsport department, Mario Izola, to help answer the question of what Formula 1 can do to change the situation.
“Is the situation with rain unsolvable? No, it is quite possible to find more successful solutions for the future, – says Izola. – Obviously, the current Formula 1 race cars function in such a way that in the rain they raise a lot of water above the track, which causes a problem with visibility. There are probably measures we can take for the future. For example, work on the drainage of the racetrack so that water does not stand on the asphalt – this will reduce the suspension of water in the air. Maybe it is really possible to install some devices on the machines that could reduce this suspension. “
But what about the tires? Is it possible for Pirelli to recycle them so that they emit less water, but remain safe?
“There is little we can do. Our rain tires are designed to accelerate water and provide traction while reducing aquaplaning. But it is clear that this water must go somewhere! Somewhere – that is, into the air. It would be possible to make rain tires closer in performance to intermediate ones, but there is no such plan, because we have to fight aquaplaning. So I’m not sure that we can do anything with the tires, which would allow the pilots to perform even on a very wet track.
First of all, the decision must be made by the FIA, because the issue of safety is very important. We must ensure that pilots are performing in a safe environment. If visibility is zero, then the conditions are unsafe, ”concludes Izola.
The complexity of modern cars, coupled with the ambiguous decisions of the FIA, has already deprived us of at least one intriguing race. In Sochi, to everyone’s joy, the Belgian scenario did not repeat itself: a light rain only brightened the already exciting race. However, the FIA needs to think about the future and do its best to make rain racing less problematic. After all, the weather over the race tracks will not always be as favorable as it was last Sunday. And the more Grand Prix appears on the Formula 1 calendar, the higher the chance of a recurrence of the problem.