Motorsports series around the world deal with inclement conditions in a variety of ways. In NASCAR, ARCA and INDYCAR races held on ovals wet weather tyres are not used. Clearly on the banked oval circuits the grip through the banked corners cannot be replicated in damp conditions and so attempting to develop a tyre for these occasions is pointless.
Many racing series utilise tyres design to operate in the rain. These are usually manufactured from softer rubber compounds to improve grip, the have a grooved design to shirt the water and as a result the shape of the wet tyres can even be different from their dry weather counterparts.
F1 unique approach to tyres
Formula One is unusual because the sport mandates their tyre supplier produces two different tyres of wet weather tyre; the full or ‘extreme’ wet and intermediate which is designed for conditions where there is no standing water.
The Sprint shootout at the 2023 Belgium Grand Prix, which set the grid for the one third GP distance race on Saturday afternoon, was delayed while race control ensured the track was dry enough for the drivers to have adequate usability.
However this had a knock on effect delaying the start of the Sprint race itself where again the wet conditions delayed the start even further.
Even then there were a number of formation laps run behind the safety car which meant the shortened 15 lap race was curtailed even further to just eleven laps.
FIA super cautious over racing in Spa
Certain commentators felt the delayed start by race control was overly cautious as the deaths during wet conditions of two junior drivers at this circuit since 2019 clearly affected the FIA representatives decision making.
Anthoine Hubert died in a crash at the Raidillon corner in 2019, while 18-year-old Dilano van ‘t Hoff lost his life earlier this month in a FRECA race a few hundred metres further up the circuit.
Due to the high speed nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, spread is considerably more of a problem here than at other circuits where the F1 circus lays its hat.
The Sprint was declared a wet race before the off by race control which meant all the drivers had to being using the extreme wet tyres as they followed the safety car before the eventual rolling start.
F1 race control ‘dithers’
Yet almost half the field pitted to get rid of the extreme wets before the first lap began with the rest doing the same after just one lap of the race.
This raised questions over the point of the extreme wet tries given over the past two seasons they are never the choice of racing tyre in wet conditions. The drivers prefer the intermediate tyre which is several seconds a lap quicker.
The reality such is the concern for driver safety in modern times that the FIA do not allow them to race in conditions where Grand Prix of yesteryear were actually run.
In their push towards net zero in 2030 the FIA trialed an alternative tyre arrangement in Hungary which meant the drivers were restricted to just eleven sets of dry weather tyres for the weekend instead of the usual thirteen.
New F1 tyre arrangements cricitsed
This will be repeated at the Italian Grand Prix in two races time. The intent is to reduce the number of F1 tyres hauled around the globe by almost 4,000 which will clearly reduce the carbon footprint of Formula one.
However the Hungarian trial was criticised by a number of the drivers who claimed this in fact reduced the amount off time the teams would spend on track during the practice sessions and therefore diminish the fan experience.
Hamilton calls out wet tyre wastage
Lewis Hamilton clearly frustrated by the fact he had just one medium tyre for the entire practice two session at the Hungarian Grand Prix, called on the FIA to consider other options to reduce the carbon footprint of the sport.
“We only had one tyre that we were going to use this session. Not really a great format this change that they made for this weekend, it just means we get less running,” Hamilton said.
“Not ideal, and there’s a lot of wet tyres I think they throw away after every weekend, like a lot, maybe they should look at something like that rather than taking time on track away from the fans.”
Drivers say Pirelli wet tyres “pointless”
While the only session at this weekends Belgium Grand Prix was not wet, the drivers were unimpressed again with the performance of the Pirelli extreme wet they were forced to start the Sprint race with then ditched either before the rolling start or after just one lap.
Speaking after the session, George Russell was one of those to point that out. “The extreme tyre is a pretty pointless tyre, it’s really, really bad,” said the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director.
“It’s probably six, seven seconds a lap slower than the intermediate. And the only reason you’d ever run the extreme wet is because you’d aquaplane on an intermediate. So that needs to be substantially improved.”
The Pirelli boss on fact agrees with this opinion but suggests it is the extreme caution shown by race control that leads to these situations.
Pirelli defend their F1 tyre development
“I believe that we have to, first of all, divide two problems. One is the performance of the wet [tyres], one is the visibility,” said Mario Isola on Saturday evening.
“Performance-wise, when we were developing the tyres, we found a result in terms of performance that was much, much better than the old wet tyre. It’s not enough, maybe, but we did a step.”
This year the two F1 wet tyres have been designed to work without the need for them to be pre-heated and Isola maintains Pirelli have indeed delivered on this FIA requirement and the teams are unanimous in their support for the rubber compound.
“The warm-up was not an issue. All of the teams voted to introduce the new wet during the season because they had the data from our test,” Isola continued.
“safety car tyres” only say Pirelli
The extreme wet tyres are designed to shirt 160 litres of water a second, but at a high speed circuit like Spa-Francorchamp this vastly increases the amount of spray thrown up and equally reduces visibility.
“Are they safety car tyres? We discuss many times about visibility. It is an issue and clearly, the FIA, together with the teams, are working around some devices [spray guards] that can improve visibility in order to reduce the spray that is coming from the tyres and the diffuser,” the Pirelli boss revealed.
The conundrum appears to result in a situation where the extreme wet tyre will never be used for racing and it will be other FIA initiatives that must be trailed to reduce the spray in the worst of wet conditions where the extreme Pirelli wet tyre is required.
FIA policy needs addressing
“If the idea is to continue to look for a device that is able to reduce the spray and therefore give [drivers] the possibility to run in full-wet conditions, we have to keep the two products. But if the full wet tyre is used only behind the safety car, I agree with drivers that, at the moment, it is a useless tyre.”
Pirelli at present produce thousands of extreme wet tyres each year, which may only be called upon at a handful of Grand Prix.
The ball is now firmly in the court of Formula One’s governing body to decide whether the vast expense of producing these extreme wet weather tyres has become a pointless activity.
Drama at the start 😮
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 30, 2023