Unlike most American motorsports, Formula 1 races can happen in various conditions, including in heavy rain. Wet weather races are some of the most popular among fans because they often have exciting action that can lead to unique results. However, there are a variety of rule changes that occur when Formula One races in the rain.
Here’s an overview of what happens when the F1 track gets wet, why races occur in the rain, the reasons for delays, and more!
Rain in F1 and Other Motorsports
American fans of NASCAR who are familiar with hours or days-long weather delays are usually shocked to learn that F1 drivers regularly race in rainy conditions. Many motorsports federations delay for weather since race cars typically drive on slick racing tires, which lose traction in cold or wet conditions.
However, Formula 1 has different tyre options to ensure drivers can race safely when the track is wet.
Why Does Formula 1 Race in the Rain?
F1 cars can race in the rain because Pirelli manufactures two different tyres for wet conditions. Wet tires, sometimes called “full wets,” have a tread pattern similar to that of a road car. These tread designs can move water out from under the vehicle. When an F1 car goes 185 miles per hour, the wet tires can move 85 liters of water per second. This water transfer is essential in preventing aquaplaning when drivers go around a wet track at high speed.
Any Problems Using Wet Tires in F1?
The problem with using wet tires for an entire race is that they tend to heat up quickly because of the high downforce created by F1 cars. If the conditions start to dry out, many drivers will often run on the wet part of the track or splash their tires in standing water to try to cool them down to maintain tire integrity. The tread pattern on wet tires also makes them wear quickly.
However, if rainy conditions stop, it might take a while for a track to dry out, which is necessary for racing slicks. Pirelli also provides intermediate tires for these transitional periods, so drivers can safely make their way around the track before the road dries out and slick tires can be used.
Can an F1 Race be Delayed or Postponed for Rain?
The FIA rules make it hard to postpone a race for the weather because it’s almost impossible to make up a race. With a tight, international schedule, F1 teams need to break down a race and leave as soon as possible to make it to the next venue, especially if it’s a continent or ocean away. That means there may be some delays ahead of a race, but it’s unlikely that one will not occur.
2021 Belgian Prix at Spa Weather Incident
In 2021, the FIA came under fire for decisions made during the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Heavy rain plagued the race, forcing marshalls to delay the start. However, after several hours, the race director decided to start the race under a safety car. The drivers started the race in their qualifying order and immediately followed the safety car for three laps, which is when a red flag stopped the race. Since the race had not reached 75%, the FIA awarded drivers half-points for finishing. As the first-place finisher, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen got 12.5 points, while William’s George Russell got 9 points and his first podium finish. Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton came in third, earning 7.5 points.
The end of the race earned significant criticism from team personnel and fans. After the Belgian GP, the FIA made a rule change so that three laps must occur under “green flag” racing conditions for a race to count. That means the drivers must be able to race independently, without the safety car, and at full speed for the race to matter.
2022 New Rules
Racing fans got their first taste of the new rule set during the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix. While the race eventually started without incident, the delays had many F1 drivers upset about the delay. The FIA defended its actions by prioritizing safety over starting on time.
Are there Special Rules for Driving in the Rain?
Specific rules are in place during rainy races in F1 to ensure the safety of everyone. First, the race may start behind a safety car for a few laps, allowing the vehicles to navigate the track while drying out the racing line safely. Next, the FIA does not allow using DRS on a wet track.
If the conditions on the track change, it’s usually up to F1 teams to tell their drivers when to pit so they can change their tires and continue the race safely. However, sometimes drivers are anxious to finish a race and may not want to pit too early onto tires that are inherently slower than racing slicks. This happened during the 2021 Russian Grand Prix when McLaren’s Lando Norris decided to try to finish the race on slick tires despite heavy rain on one portion of the track. When he approached the wet part of the track, he spun out, losing his considerable lead to Lewis Hamilton, who’d pitted earlier in the race.
Conclusion: Does Formula 1 Race in the Rain?
Many motorsport fans are familiar with racing federations delaying or pausing a race when the weather turns. However, F1 fans are often excited for wet races. Many fans believe that racing in wet conditions is an equalizer between teams and often makes for more exciting racing. While there’s always a priority on safety, rainy races often make for exciting finishes and rare opportunities where midfield teams can make up valuable points in the championship, making them a quick fan favorite.