As was the case in 2014, race control were under pressure at the 2022 Japanese GP due to extreme wet weather for the start of the race on Sunday. Controversially race control decided to on a standing start for the the Grand Prix rather than a rolling start behind the safety car. The teams and drivers believed one side of the grid was wetter than the other and therefor to be fair to all the drivers a safety car start was expected around 30 minutes before the off.
However, Safety Car starts don’t provide the drama of a standing start and so the race director is always under a little pressure to attempt a standing start if at all possible.
In wet conditions for a standing start the teams can choose between the extreme wet tyre or the much quicker intermediate tyre and inevitably every driver began the race on the latter.
Teams refuse to choose full wet tyre in Japan
Yet in reality the circuit was too wet for the intermediate tyre with standing water and ‘rivers’ running across the Suzuka circuit which has over the years proved not to be track where drainage is particularly good.
Carlos Sainz had zero visibility behind Sergio Pérez so at turn 12 he took a different line in an attempt to improve his view of what was ahead. Unfortunately for the Spaniard by coming off line he hit standing water and spun off into the barrier.
This brought out the safety car before the end of lap 1 and then on lap 2 the red flag.
The Ferrari crash proved the field should have been on the full wet tyre, yet in modern history few have ever elected to start an F1 race however wet on that tyre.
Vettel implicates FIA
Sebastian Vettel who spun at the first corner but recovered said after the race, “We are forced to go on the intermediates because the rain tyres [full wet] are junk – sorry, not so good. So we push ourselves from one emergency to another.
“The whole field was driving on the wrong tyres,” added the soon to be retiring quadruple world champion.t
“We are all responsible for that, but we have an intermediate that is so much faster than the wet tyre. The wet is better for the conditions but so slow that you’re forced to be on the next tyre.
“That needs to be improved.”
It’s a feature of modern Formula One racing that race control is reluctant to send the drivers out to race in wet conditions which are more than just damp.
Yet it wasn’t always this way.
F1 fans now deprived of historic wet great drives
In 2008 Lewis Hamilton in just his second year of F1 raced at a wet Silverstone coming through the field to win. Experienced drivers like Mark Webber and Felipe Massa didn’t even manage to complete the first lap before spinning out.
“It’s performances of that calibre that make legends,” wrote Autosport’s chief editor.
Hamilton almost 10 years later described his performance as follows.
“Picking my favourite race of all time is not that easy, but that was an unbelievable weekend.”
“I could see the fans standing up, cheering me on. That was one of the biggest highlights of my career,” said the 7 times world champion.
Schumacher 1st Ferrari win an epic wet drive
Michael Schumacher in Barcelona 1996 was described by Autosport as “Ferrari’s miracle man” as he scored his first win for Ferrari.
In dry qualifying Schumacher was a second slower than pole sitter Damon Hill in his Williams.
“It was one of the great wet weather drives in history, worthy of comparison with Ayrton Senna’s performances at Estoril in 1985 or Donington in 1993,” said Autosport.
Even Williams trackside engineer James Robinson was impressed: “Watching the Ferrari, I don’t think the car was brilliant. It looked like it was on ice. The guy is just something else. He was pretty amazing.”
The list of historic epic wet weather drives is extensive. Jackie Stewart at the 1968 German GP and Sebastian Vettel taking his first F1 win in Monza for Torro Rosso in 2008 are but to name a few.
SO why today do we rarely see this full race distances paying out when it’s wet?
Verstappen rues loss of wet F1 races
After being crowned 2022 F1 world champion Max erstappen shared his thoughts with the assembled press.
“I didn’t want to take a dig but I think we need better rain tyres,” said the double world champion.
“You saw what we could do in the 90s or the early 2000s with the amount of water on the track.
“I’m very happy to do a few test days to try all different kinds of tyres because we need better rain tyres. The extremes are just slow and they don’t really carry a lot of water away.
“If you compare to 20 years ago, it was perfectly fine in the wet. So there must be a solution. But like I said, this is not criticism because I’m very happy to help out.”
Pirelli blame FIA and teams for poor wet testing
Verstappen hit the nail on the head and Mario Isola agrees the FIA do not schedule enough wet weather testing for Formula One’s tyre manufacturer.
“We only have one compound for the rain tyres and one for the intermediates,” he said. “And they have to work everywhere – on 22 different tracks. So we have to find the best compromise.
“Honestly we don’t have many opportunities to test the rain and intermediate tyres,” bemoans Isola.
“We work with the FIA and the teams, but if we don’t have the opportunity to test the tyres then we don’t have the opportunity to develop them either.”
The problem is compounded by the FIA refusing at the few wet weather tests Pirelli obtain to mandate the teams must run the tyres Pirelli request.
Isola recalls, “If you remember the pre-season tests in Barcelona, we wet the track for half a day but the extreme wet was used very little,” said the Italian.
“They were focusing on the intermediate.”
FIA must mandate 2 days of wet F1 tyre testing
The problem with wetting the track artificially at a circuit like Barcelona is the water tankers used never really create a full and properly wet circuit as when it rains.
Paul Ricard has a sprinkler system which replicates a wet track well and the amount of water can be easily varied to replicate different kinds of rainy conditions.
As part of testing schedule the FIA should require the teams to attend the French circuit and complete 2 days of wet weather testing with a schedule dictated by Pirelli.
Further, the FIA race control should be starting more wet races behind the safety car which forces the teams to use the Pirelli full wet tyre until the safety car is called in.
Several laps in Suzuka behind the safety car as happened at the restart following the red flag is a tool race control needs to be more confident in using at the start of wet Grand Prix.
Lights out at Suzuka!
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 12, 2022