At the recent tyre test in Silverstone, the FIA allocated time for the of testing newly design F1 car spray guards. These are detachable components which can be quickly fitted to the current cars should the skies open and deliver a torrential rain downpour.
While the F1 extreme wet tyres can shift the excess water in almost any conditions, the problem of almost zero visibility becomes the greatest risk to the drivers and as recent events in Belgium demonstrated lead to a tragic loss of life.
Shortest ever F1 race
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is much loved by F1 fans for the historic role it has played in many of the sports championships. The spectacular track climbs the side of a mountain in the Ardennes Forrest before dramatically sweeping back down again in a breath taking sequence of curves.
However, the weather in this region is often unfavourable with heat rain clouds building up out of no where due to topographic and stratospheric conditions. When the rain comes it is often torrential and led to the unprecedented scenes at the 2021 Grand Prix.
This Belgium race became particularly notable for becoming the shortest Formula One World Championship race in history and the only World Championship Grand Prix not to have any running under full green flag conditions.
Just two full completed laps were completed behind the safety car before the race was red-flagged on lap 3 and not restarted due to adverse weather conditions. Verstappen was controversially classified as P1, with George Russell in his Williams in P2 and Lewis Hamilton completed the podium places.
Two recent deaths above Eau Rouge
Spa’s iconic corners Eau Rough and Radilon have seen their run off areas extended since the death of Anthoine Hubert in the 2019 Formula 2 event held over the F1 weekend.
Whilst this may prevent cars hitting the barrier at the top of the hill and bounce back across there circuit, as the track narrows down the subsequent Kemmel straight this potential still exists there.
The the spray from the cars becomes dangerous as the drivers behind any car having an off cannot see and hurtle into the stricken driver at speeds approaching 250kph.
Unfortunately, the FIA test of the spray guards at Silverstone were a resounding failure. The amount of water expelled was way less than expected and the ‘mudflaps’ failed to address the main issue of reducing spray for the driver behind.
F1 spray guards a failure
The expelled water was too little and the visibility hasn’t improved at also at present these mudflaps do not actually change what is one of the main problems of F1 when racing on water, i.e. the visibility of the chasing single-seaters.
Trails will continue but at present the head of the day to day management Nicholas Tombazis remained defiant despite the setback:
“We are fully committed to making this work because we believe that sooner or later it will make the difference between a canceled race and a race held. If he saves even one race, and prevents 100,000 people from having a similar experience at Spa 2021, it will mean that it will be worth it.”
Pierre Gasly led a tribute to recent driver deaths in Spa as he led track run around the circuit on Thursday as the rain fell heavily. Given the recent tragic death of an 18 year old in a junior category race in torrential conditions, the FIA have indicated they will not hesitate to cancel this weekends track running should conditions deteriorate.
F1 drivers accept race cancelation
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen is pragmatic: “If it’s cancelled, it’s cancelled, and we’ll deal with it.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has called on his fellow competitors not to complain about the lack of laps if a session is called off due to heavy rain.
The forecast for this weekends F1 event is mixed, though as previously stated in Spa the heavens can open with just a matter of minutes notice.
Russell says FIA huge responsibility
George Russell who is a director of the drivers’ association has urged the FIA to be “bold” if conditions are unsafe.
“Everybody wants to race but when you’re going down that straight at 200mph and you can’t see 50 metres in front of you, there will be huge incidents,” said the Mercedes driver.
“They’ve got a big responsibility this weekend.”
F1 drivers ‘know best’
Nico Hulkneberg whose surprise return to F1 after three years out will see him start his tenth Belgium GP weekend believes the drivers must take their share of the responsibility by communicating with the race director.
“He hears our comments,” said the Haas driver. “If 50 percent of us are saying it’s too dangerous, he’ll respect that.
“He knows we’re the best judges.”
Alonso wants to drive
F1’s senior driver Fernando Alonso believes there will be periods where the rain and spray will “prevent us from driving”.
“What has happened here is still too recent,” the Spaniard added. “We’ll always be happy to drive as much as we can, as long as visibility allows it.”
Verstappen astutely observed that the larger wheels and ground effect cars have made matters worse when the rain falls but believes the risk to the drivers is less than elsewhere.
Verstappen dismisses Spa risks
“But we also race in Monaco and Jeddah and I think it’s much more dangerous there,” said the Dutchman.
“Unfortunately, accidents are unavoidable in this sport.”
The dutchman believes the issues surrounding Eau Rouge and the following corners are just a fact of life and have to be accepted.
“The situation isn’t good,” said Verstappen, “but it has been like that for a long time and I don’t think there’s much we can change.”
Wait for it…..
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 27, 2023