The chemicals, emotions and designs that explain the rain problem in Formula 1

There seems little doubt that some of the former’s great F1 flights – like Ayrton Senna in Portugal in 1985, Michael Schumacher in Barcelona in 1996 and Damon Hill in Suzuka in 1994 – wouldn’t have happened these days because they weren’t allowed Absolutely racing. to start.

This has led to the inevitable criticism that F1 these days are too risky. With car safety standards rising, many people argue that the best drivers in the world should definitely be allowed to get out there and sort things out themselves.

But while the minimum acceptable level of risk has changed over time, there are other deciding factors that make life more difficult for F1 2022 cars in the rain.

Motorsport.com has met with GPDA President Alex Wurz to update him on the matter.

He cites the many issues at hand – some that can be changed and some that are here to stay.

Safety Car Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, rest of the field to restart

Safety Car Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, rest of the field to restart

Photography: Andy Hoon / motorsports pictures

Health and safety

While there are physical factors – such as car designs and tires – that play a role in dictating wet weather, one critical element is the level that the FIA ​​considers safe.

Advances in safety have been very welcome in Formula 1, and it wouldn’t make sense to put so much effort into making the cars safe until you have a completely imperceptible attitude to let the drivers out in the worst of rain.

As Wurz, who got stuck in the opening race of the famous 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, said: “The whole world is moving to a safer position first.

“On the one hand, you could say that’s bad, and that shouldn’t be the sport. But I think this sport has been very exciting in improving safety without compromising performance in general.

But we cannot hide from difficult laws, obligations, jurisdictions, and difficult cases, which constantly affect sport and society. So it’s a contributing factor.”

Changes in society also have their part to play in making rain delays a big problem as well; Because he thinks fans decades ago didn’t think to wait a few hours. At present, situations are different.

“In those days, we were all more patient,” he said. “Our lives go into a very short attention span and I want things that work for me, so I am impatient.

“Maybe we all remember that the 30-minute delay in the old days wasn’t as annoying as it is now for some fans. It’s a fact.”

Pirelli wet weather tires

Pirelli wet weather tires

Photography: Lionel Ng / motorsports pictures

Chemicals and grooves in tires

Tires are one of the key elements that determine whether or not cars can run in the rain.

If the available rubber can provide a good grip without the risk of aquaplaning, that leaves the door open for the course of events. However, the height of a few factors made things a lot tougher for now.

As Wurz explains: “Tire manufacturers are no longer allowed to use the same very special chemicals, softeners and oils, which made tires so unique in the tire war period of the 1990s and 2000s.

“It’s a one-man-made frame as well. So if you want to increase the grip, which I’m sure Pirelli can do, there’s a cost factor too.

“The tires are also wider, which may be more important than the previous ones. This means that it is easier for them to get aquaplaning or reduce the contact patch. Because of the water displacement. Plus if they have bigger grooves, the rims break.”

Pirelli proudly says that its wet tires dump 85 liters of water per second at 300 km/h.

As Mario Isola, head of the Pirelli Formula 1 racing and motor racing team in Japan, explained: “With full wetness, you spray into the air three times of medium water.”

But one of the conundrums with rain tires is that the better job they do at deflecting rainwater, the more spray is then thrown into the air — making visibility worse.

The answer, then, is not simply to design a tire to be more efficient at cutting water.

In addition, Pirelli also has to take into account the fact that there has to be an intersection between the extreme wet and mid runs, so they cannot be too far apart.

If the track conditions are too dry for wet work, but too humid for the medium, that would be a recipe for disaster.

“We have tools to adjust the tyres,” Isola said. “The problem is vision.

“We’ve had a monsoon tire in the past, but it was a decision to have this type of product with a wider crossover between wet, medium and slick tyres.

“We can also modify the tread pattern, but I’m not sure it’s the right direction because, with vision loss, it doesn’t work anyway. Then the danger is that you don’t have a crossover with the median, and that’s worse.”

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Earth effect cars

Looking at the way that even a decade or so ago, races were able to take place in terrible conditions, we must not forget that the levels of compressive strength have changed drastically.

And for 2022, one of the critical factors at play in wet driving is the switch to ground-impact vehicles.

Underground Venturi tunnels, and a design by Formula 1 chiefs to minimize disruption to airflow to the cars behind by not being near the chasing cars, mean that in wet mist is thrown more violently upwards – further impeding visibility.

As Wurz says, “The downforce is now constantly increasing. It’s also a wider car, so there’s more room to suck it up, and more water flowing in—a little more than 10 percent.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, grapples with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, for the lead at the start

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, grapples with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, for the lead at the start

Photography: Steve Etherington / motorsports pictures

Drivers parking

While some fans may choose to criticize the drivers because the races don’t take place in poor conditions, Wurz is clear that the attitudes of those in the cockpit are unchanged from years past.

He says if it’s safe enough, they’re more than happy to get out there.

“Drivers, we always say wet driving is fun, even with aquaplaning. Driving when you’re alone, it’s incredibly challenging and amazing.

“But the moment you don’t see anything, you are in so much danger that the slightest problem can lead to death.

And this is the time to applaud the race director for putting safety first above all this public and commercial pressure and risk. Can we do it better? Yes.

“We want to support the sport here as much as we can, perhaps to find ways to improve the situation. But also help educate fans and stakeholders of the enormous challenge and courage you need to get out in the wet when you see nothing. Actually nothing.”

This is why, while factors such as tire and car design are not things that can be fixed immediately, there are some ideas, such as the “information gaps” being discussed with the GPDA, that could represent a small step in a quick fix for some of the problems F1 faces when The sky opens.

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