If you’re a committed fan watching an F1 race live, rainy weather can be a nightmare if you forgot your umbrella and rain jacket at home, but just imagine how it is for the drivers, driving an F1 car is exceptionally difficult at the best of times, so when you combine a wet track with 20 cars all lapping at high speeds – you’ve got yourself a recipe for mayhem.
Poor visibility from “rooster tails” sprayed by leading cars makes the task of seeing where you’re going in the rain an enormous challenge; then there’s the reduced levels of grip, braking efficiency, and tire temperature to cope with, so how do drivers manage the wet weather and remain competitive when the track is slippery and visibility is bad?
Questions you’ve perhaps always wanted to ask, but never found the courage to, like “does the cockpit of an F1 car fill with rain?” and many others will be explored in this article, as we break down all the fascinating ways that the cars and the drivers’ equipment are adapted to unfavorable conditions.
How does rain affect an F1 race?
In our everyday lives, rain has a habit of making everything we try to do a little bit more difficult and frustrating – racing is no different. Rainy weather arrives, but it takes time for the track surface to become wet, so for many laps, the drivers and teams have to second-guess when the best time is to switch from a dry weather setup to a wet setup.
Time spent on track with the wrong setup can lose drivers precious chunks of time as available tire compounds only excel in the conditions they were designed for. Wet weather tires on a dry track not only offer less grip, but they rapidly overheat, disintegrating into fragments of rubber, sometimes causing punctures.
Wet weather can lead to more accidents on track which causes delays when cars need to be safely removed, or track barriers need to be maintained. As a result, the weekend timing schedule can run into extra time, not good for spectators or drivers, with some sessions being delayed, and others being canceled entirely.
Are fans that bought tickets refunded if the race is canceled?
While it’s extremely rare that F1 races are canceled entirely due to wet weather, it does happen from time to time. One case was the 2021 F1 Belgian “Grand Prix” – if you could call it that, which saw a field of F1 cars run a race duration of just 3 measly laps, spending the entirety of the race in the shadow of the safety car.
It seems that, because on-paper a race result was recorded, and the race itself was started, there were no grounds for spectators to receive a refund, as you’d expect this made fans furious, their commitment to remain at the circuit in hope of seeing some racing eventually, despite the horrendous conditions, were only “compensated” with an invitation to another event the following year and an entry into a patronizing “prize-draw” available – no refund then.
Many drivers at the time expressed their dismay with how the situation was handled by the FIA such as Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, also calling for refunds to be issued to fans that bought tickets, and sadly didn’t get to see any F1 racing. This could indicate the chances of receiving a refund when an F1 race is canceled due to rain are pretty slim.
Dry setup vs Wet setup – What’s the difference?
When wet weather is declared, teams have the option of 2 different tire compounds:
- Intermediate tires (Green) – suitable for mild, rainy conditions or times when the weather is transitioning from dry to wet. While not a full-blown rain tire, the intermediate tires have grooves in the tire tread that aid the dispersal of water, while retaining some sporty characteristics that enable it to be effective on a drying track. The longevity of the “inters” are impressive, with the same set of tires able to last an entire race!
- Full wet tires (Blue) – the best choice for very wet conditions and heavy rain where the presence of standing water on track could be an issue. The full wet tires are 10mm wider than their slick variants, with 305/680-13 on the fronts an 405/680-13 on the rear. Deep grooves are characteristics that Pirelli designed with the aim of creating higher resistance to aquaplaning, and as such can remove 85 liters of water per second on each tire at 185mph (300km/h).
Do F1 drivers have to make a pit stop for a wet race?
Normally, drivers must use 2 different tire compounds during the race, making pit stops mandatory. But when a race suddenly goes from being dry to wet, the drivers and teams must make the call whether to gamble with intermediate tires or to play it safe with full wet tires.
If the race starts under wet conditions, however, drivers are not obligated to make a pit stop for a different tire compound, so if they wish to, they can race the full race distance on the same tires they started with providing they take great care to maintain their condition throughout the race.
Does an F1 car cockpit get filled with water in a wet race?
The aerodynamic bodywork of an F1 car manipulates the air that passes over it to guide it to where it would be most beneficial, channeling fresh, cool air to extremely hot parts like the brakes, and away from unwanted areas like the driver and cockpit.
In wet or dry conditions, the design of the F1 car prevents airflow (and rainfall) from entering the cockpit and leaving the driver sitting in a puddle of cold water. The only time rainwater could possibly enter an F1 car cockpit is when the cars are sat on the grid pre-race, or waiting for a green light at the end of pit lane, and even then, teams place large umbrellas over the driver and cockpit until the last possible moment.
Do F1 cars have lights for wet races?
Racing F1 cars in the rain is not for the faint-hearted, both wet tire compounds available are designed to shed water from the tires fast, which wreaks havoc for every driver on track – except the leader that is.
If you’re leading a group of F1 cars during rainy conditions, you have the enormous privilege of actually being able to see where you’re going; meanwhile, behind it’s like the blind leading the blind as drivers have nothing more than the glow of the red LED mounted on the back of each car as an indication of how close their eager rivals lie.
How do F1 drivers see in wet conditions?
An F1 drivers race helmet has a clever “tear-off” system that allows drivers to easily peel off and remove a layer of their visor, removing the dirty layer to reveal a clean layer underneath. These visor “tear-offs” are either impregnated or coated with a smart liquid formula that repels incoming water, expelling the droplets from the driver’s vision instantaneously, giving the driver’s clearer vision, albeit still hampered by spray from other cars.
As you can imagine, wet races are exciting, unpredictable, and full of drama with the final race results often determined by driver skill, and a little bit of luck of course! The rain can also serve as a prime opportunity for drivers with good wet weather experience to close the gap on their rivals and score some much-needed points.
Who is the fastest F1 driver in the rain?
In Formula 1, drivers regarded as the fastest and most capable in the rain are known colloquially as “rain masters” or “rain kings” – a title long reserved for the legendary Michael Schumacher, who raced his way to many heroic victories in the wet, allowing him to gain many world championships.
On the other hand, when full wet tires were required for a race, you could argue there is another “rain master” among them, the man that has been snatching many records from Schumacher in recent years, Lewis Hamilton. Other notable wet weather drivers include Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hakkinen, Hamilton, and Jenson Button.
One example of a driver who sealed their very first (and only) race victory in rainy weather is the Frenchman, Olivier Panis, who took a sensational race win in the torrential 1996 Monaco Grand Prix.
Who should be crowned as the true “rain master”? We’ll let you decide.
F1 Drivers with the most race wins in wet weather (some or part of the race)
- Michael Schumacher – 19 wins
- Lewis Hamilton – 16 wins
- Ayrton Senna – 14 wins
- Jenson Button – 7 wins
- Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso – 4 wins
F1 Drivers with the most race wins in wet weather (full wets required)
- Lewis Hamilton – 11 wins
- Ayrton Senna – 5 wins
- Michael Schumacher – 4 wins
- Jenson Button – 4 wins
- Fernando Alonso – 3 wins
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