In recent years Formula One has been blighted by cancelled or reduced running for wet weather races. Yet this was not always the way the sport has dealt with such conditions. Ex F1 driver and Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle aired his frustration over the 1 hour delay at the start of the 2022 Monaco GP.
“I understand why we delayed the start, or suspended it to use the official wording, because the teams need time to re-prepare their cars with the inters or the full wets – otherwise it would have been carnage and chaos of drivers had been consigned to slick tyres on a wet track.”
Monaco 2022 race start farce
During the 5 minute pre-race procedure, the rain began to fall heavily in Monaco and so the start was suspended to allow the teams to change the dry weather slick tyres to appropriate wet tyres for the changed conditions.
Yet for some reason race control suspended the start for over an hour causing a huge debate as to why such an extended delay was really necessary.
Pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz commented, “Its a mandatory [wet tyre] start if the race starts behind the safety car because it’s too wet.”
Sky reporter mocks F1 race control
“But it’s not full wet [tyre] weather, its barely spitting with rain down here,” Kravitz observed.
“I just don’t get it. What is going on with these calls from race control?”
The start was then delayed even further than the initial 9 minutes to allow the teams to refit the cars with wet weather tyres.
Max Verstappen was informed over the radio of the decision by race control and his response was one of disbelief.
“What are we waiting for? It’s dry!”
Kravitz responded, “Join the club Max. This is not extreme wet, full wet tyre weather.”
Inexplicable FIA decisions
The delay was to eventually be over an hour and the rain eventually did fall more heavily. Yet the paralysis of the FIA delegates was extraordinary and the nigh on paranoid attitude to F1 cars racing in the wet has forced the hand of Formula One’s governing body.
The main concern of race control in recent times has been the risk of crashes due to poor visibility for the drivers when racing in wet conditions. This has created an over cautious health and safety approach to when the cars should be allowed out on track.
However the FIA is set to address this issue with new wet weather wheel arches they claim will improve visibility by 50%.
This should in future prevent the farce that was the F1 Spa race in 2021 where the race lasted just 3 laps all of which were run behind the safety car because of poor visibility.
Pirelli tasked with improved wet tyre
Fortunately the 2022 season didn’t suffer that extreme kind of weather though the race in Japan was again significantly affected by rain and poor visibility.
Pirelli have been tasked with creating a better full wet weather tyre because the teams almost always are inclined to fit the intermediate for performance reasons when the rain falls. This should improve grip in the wet but the issue of visibility remains and prevents the cars from travelling close together on track.
To combat this the FIA are now trialing wheel arches in the hope they will reduce the high amounts of spray the cars throw up in wet conditions.
New wheel arches to reduce spray
“We only think it’s going to be something that gets used on a couple of occasions a year, maybe three, that sort of thing,” the FIA’s single-seater technical director Nikolas Tombazis explained to Autosport.
“We don’t want it to be that every time there’s a drop of rain, then suddenly you have to fit these things.
“Once we have a solution, we’ll get to do some prototypes and run them on some cars to try and evaluate that properly.
“I’m expecting that it’s going to be a maybe 50% improvement kind of thing.”
Tombazis admitted that the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix “left scars on the sport” given the millions watching on TV and the thousands who had made the effort to attend the race in a Belgium forrest area. He admitted it was the responsibility of the FIA to ensure F1 could go racing in all kinds of weather conditions.
Belgium GP in 2021 scarred F1
“Spa in 2021 still left scars on the sport because it was very unfortunate circumstances,” he said. “It would have been 10 times worse I think if we had gone all the way to Japan and had to pack up and come back. We really need to avoid that.
“We have so many people watching, spectators paying tickets, teams travelling all over the world, and then to suddenly say we can’t race is not very responsible of us.”
Tombazis believes this innovation to reduce the spray from the cars will also deal with race control’s reluctance to start a race – as in Monaco – on full wet weather tyres. The current preference of F1 race directors is to wait until the conditions ease.
“I think it will bring the raceable conditions from what is maybe currently intermediate tyres, as you almost never race with the wet tyres, I think it’ll bring it well into the wet tyre territory.
“We have done a lot of CFD simulations, because we want to make sure the effect of these devices is relatively small on the overall aerodynamics. There still is an effect, but not a massive one.
“Also, we are simulating the droplets of the rain and so on, and seeing how it affects spray. What is a bit of a challenge in the simulations is to determine the relative proportion of what comes from the diffuser to what comes from the tyres.”
The FIA has come under unprecedented criticism this year for poor race control decisions. However, the development of the wet weather wheel arches may go some way to repairing their authority and improving the experience for the fans when inevitably the rain does fall.
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