The perils of racing single-seaters in the rain were highlighted last month by the fatal accident of Formula Regional racer Dilano van ‘t Hoff at Spa, with the lack of visibility in the rain a major factor in the multi-car collision that claimed the Dutchman’s life.
Rain also derailed the Belgian Grand Prix’s Saturday sprint, which was shortened to 11 laps following five formation laps behind the safety car in an attempt to clear standing water and reduce spray.
Nevertheless, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who finished third, still found conditions unsafe to race because he “couldn’t see a thing” even with just two cars ahead of him.
According to Red Bull driver Verstappen, who won both the sprint and Sunday’s largely dry grand prix, there will always be visibility problems in wet weather conditions, even if the FIA successfully implements the wheel covers or so-called spray guards it has been testing at Silverstone.
“It’s very difficult to solve these things. You will always suffer from it, and you will always have spray,” Verstappen said after Saturday’s sprint.
“Wheel covers on a Formula 1 car won’t make a big difference. The safety car also gave too much spray towards me. On the motorway you actually have the same problem.”
When asked by Motorsport.com if anything else could be done to make sure F1 can continue racing in the wet, he replied: “When I used to drive Formula 3 and was in the midfield sometimes, I couldn’t see anything either.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
“It’s always been like that. Just ask the older drivers in F1 too, they didn’t see anything either.
“Of course, certain accidents happen that have a bad outcome and then people naturally start to talk about it more. But if you look at it that way, you can’t really race in the rain any more because there will always be problems with visibility.
“That would be a shame. Then it becomes like NASCAR, they don’t drive in the rain either,” Verstappen referred to NASCAR’s reluctance to race in the rain on high-speed ovals, although it has started experimenting with wet weather oval tyres so it can race in damp conditions on some of the shorter ovals.
The American series also races on road courses in wet conditions, albeit at much lower speeds than F1 cars.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff agreed with Verstappen that there is only so much that wheel covers can achieve to improve visibility but thinks different types of tarmac that change how water is dispersed could be worth looking into.
“I think it’s a feature that we all think is good for safety and for racing, the closer you can follow also under the rain is positive.
“But on the other side, there’s the physics and if there’s rain on the track and you have a floor and the diffuser, and tyres that just keep creating large spray, I’m not sure we’re ever going to get rid of it.
“You could look at the tarmacs of certain tracks, how that can be optimised, and I don’t think that we’ve tackled that yet.
“But definitely, we know what the objective is, that we can race closer in the rain whilst at the same time acknowledging that it’s never going to be great.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Noble
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