Formula 1 is a fast-paced sport, but the show can’t stop when the weather turns bad. The Formula 1 grid is made up of the best drivers in the world, and they need to handle whatever the weather and track conditions throw at them. But new fans may wonder if F1 races in the rain.
F1 does race in the rain. Rain can make races more exciting, but there is a limit to how much rain and standing water Formula 1 cars can handle. If there is too much rain the FIA will red flag the race and suspend it until the weather improves and the track is safe to race on again.
Although Formula 1 does race in the rain, the FIA and the drivers need to carefully monitor the situation. Driving in wet weather conditions can quickly become too dangerous, especially for Formula 1 cars. Below, we discuss F1 racing in the rain in more detail.
Can F1 Cars Race In The Rain?
F1 cars can race in the rain. Despite the cars being extremely low to the ground, they can handle wet weather conditions as long as they have wet weather tires fitted. These tires help to disperse the water from underneath them and allow the rubber to make contact with the tarmac.
Even though the cars can handle wet weather conditions, it does become much more difficult for the driver to keep control over their car when it starts to rain. Drivers need to show an immense amount of skill in order to keep their car on track, which is why rain is considered to be the major “equalizer” on the Formula 1 grid.
Any advantages that some drivers get from their cars being faster than others are significantly diminished when the rain starts to come down. While the top teams still have a slight advantage over slower cars, racing in the rain puts far more focus on the driver’s skills rather than the car’s capabilities.
EXAMPLE: The perfect example of this was when George Russell showed his talent in a Williams at Spa in 2021. In a wet qualifying session, he put his notoriously slow Williams car into second position ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who was driving arguably the fastest car on the grid that year.
But we also often see more incidents when Formula 1 races in the rain. There are more cars spinning off the track, crashing, and running wide as a result of the inherently tricky conditions. There’s a combination of factors that make racing in the rain much more challenging, and far more dangerous than usual.
Why Does F1 Race In The Rain?
F1 races in the rain because they cannot control the weather, and fans, drivers and teams all expect to race, whether it’s raining or warm and dry. Wet F1 races are often some of the most exciting, which allows F1 to take advantage of the added spectacle when the weather turns bad.
With Formula 1 becoming much more dangerous to compete in when it starts to rain, many people may wonder why the series still races in the rain. It’s simply because of the fact that the cars are capable of racing in the rain thanks to the availability of wet weather tires, which give the drivers more grip despite the wet conditions (more on these below).
The Show Must Go On
Formula 1 also wants to ensure that they entertain their fans despite the weather conditions. F1 tickets are expensive, and fans have to sit in the rain, so letting the cars race in the rain is the best course of action for the sport.
It’s not easy to cancel a Formula 1 race. Because it’s a global sport traveling to several different countries around the world every year, the sport and the teams need to spend millions of dollars each year to cover their travel and accommodation costs. Canceling an F1 race because of poor weather would mean that everyone loses out on a lot of money.
Formula 1 will also keep the show going when the rain starts to come down because it usually provides more excitement for the drivers and the fans. With driving conditions being trickier, there is usually more overtaking and more drivers making mistakes, which brings a new element of excitement for the fans and spectators.
KEY POINTS• F1 does race in the rain, and wet races are true tests of the drivers’ skills
• Wet races are often some of the most exciting
• Fans pay a lot of money for tickets, and so it’s vital that F1 still puts on a show regardless of the weather
What Are Wet Tires In F1?
Wet tires in F1, also called extreme wets, provide drivers with more grip when the track is wet. The full wet tires have treads on them that allow the tires to disperse 85 liters of water per second each when the car is traveling at about 186 mph (300 kph). Wet tires have a blue stripe on them.
The main reason Formula 1 cars can race in the wet is because of their wet tires. These tires have been specially developed by Pirelli to withstand wet weather conditions. Wet tires have to be used when there is standing water on the track as otherwise the cars would simply lose traction and aquaplane off the track when they drive over any water.
Wet weather tires have deep grooves or treads in them, which are used to disperse water underneath the tires. If any water is trapped underneath the tires, the rubber will lose contact with the tarmac and the car will instantly lose all of its grip, causing it to aquaplane. The grooves in the tires prevent this by offering channels for the water to escape from underneath the tires.
Wet weather tires also have a much lower operating temperature than slick tires, which means they are much easier to warm when they are bolted onto the car. This means they would overheat rapidly if used on a dry track, but in the wet they are easier to maintain at an optimum temperature.
What Are Intermediate Tires In F1?
Intermediate tires in F1 are tires the drivers use in damp conditions, when the track is not wet enough for full wet tires but also not dry enough for slicks. When driving at 186 mph (300 kph), each intermediate tire can disperse up to 30 liters of water. These tires have a green stripe on them.
Intermediate tires are used when it starts to rain and the track becomes damp, or if a wet track is beginning to dry up. These tires will offer the driver more grip in these conditions than slick tires, and they won’t overheat as much as full wet tires. However, they’re not much use in really heavy rain.
Intermediate tires have shallower grooves in the tire tread, which means that they channel less water from underneath the tires, but they also have more rubber in contact with the surface of the road. This means that they are the perfect tire to bridge that middle ground between heavy rain and dry conditions.
Intermediate tires have a higher operating temperature range than the wet tires, but they still have a lower temperature range than the slick tires. This means that they can heat up quicker than the dry tires, but they take longer to heat up than the extreme wet tires.
KEY FACT: While dry tires have ideal operating temperature windows between 85-140°C depending on the compound, full wet tires work best at about 60-75°C, while intermediate tires usually work best between 65-85°C.
Wet weather tires, whether they are intermediate or extreme wet, need to have a lower ideal operating temperature because of the fact that they will be used in the rain. The water on track will naturally cool the tires down. If the tires had a high ideal operating temperature window, drivers would struggle to get them hot enough to provide them with enough grip.
How Rain Affects An F1 Race
In general, rain can make a Formula 1 race more exciting for fans. The races become much more unpredictable because the drivers are no longer racing their precisely built cars in the conditions for which they are so precisely built. They’re designed to go as fast as possible around a racetrack, with the main focus being on dry setups, as dry weather is the most common condition they’ll face.
KEY FACT: F1 seasons are made up of primarily dry races, but three seasons have had 6 wet races each: 1981, 2000 and 2008. There has been at least 1 wet race per season since 1994.
Wet weather conditions make the sport so much more exciting that ex F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone even had an idea to install sprinklers on some circuits to shake things up when the races become a bit bland. This artificial wet weather idea was brought up when the sport was looking into ways to improve overtaking, but was obviously never implemented!
Formula 1 teams use weather radars to predict when the rain will begin to fall at a circuit. However, these can often be unreliable as it’s only a prediction, and there are many different variables that affect how long it takes for rain to arrive at the track. Drivers can often be caught out by sudden downpours, leaving them limping to the pit lane to fit wet weather tires onto their cars.
When it starts to rain during a Formula 1 race, the track conditions will have an effect on the racing. With the tricky track conditions, drivers need to rely more on their own skills than on their cars. The cars will be sliding around with a lack of grip due to the track conditions, which means that drivers will always be on the absolute limit trying to control their cars.
Rain can sometimes provide drivers with more overtaking opportunities. Some drivers might be struggling to find grip whereas others will be able to find grip by using different racing lines. It’s also more difficult for drivers to defend against attacking cars in the rain with a lack of grip. However, drivers usually can’t use DRS when it’s wet.
Some of the most exciting races, such as Belgium in 2008, Brazil in 2012, and the 1984 Monaco Grands Prix were wet races. The races can become even more exciting if the rain starts to fall halfway through the race as each driver tries to predict when the best time might be to pit and move onto wet weather tires.
Because the cars usually end up more spread out as the race goes on, making the call to pit often comes down to luck as a driver may be in the right part of the circuit when the rain begins to fall. If a driver is at the other side of the track when the puddles start forming, it can be a long and painful journey back to the pit lane as they lose time against rivals on more appropriate tires.
Tricky weather conditions also mean that drivers are more likely to make mistakes. There’s a much higher chance of drivers losing control of their cars and crashing into barriers, or even crashing into each other. This means that there’s a higher risk of a safety car being brought out to neutralize the race.
Safety cars can mix up an entire race as some drivers can get a cheap pit stop during a safety car period. Since all the cars are lapping much slower, heading into the pits at the right time means that the driver won’t lose as much time to their opponents as they would if they pitted in dry conditions.
If the race starts under severe weather conditions there is a chance that the race could start under safety car conditions. This also helps to clear some standing water off the track as the cars lap the circuit, which means that the racing can get underway sooner.
Safety car starts also mean that there is no standing start, which is one exciting element that is unfortunately taken away from the race. However, safety is always the top priority in Formula 1, which is why the safety car needs to be ready at all times to keep the race under control in tricky weather conditions.
Wet weather conditions increase the chances of red flags. Drivers will be making more mistakes in the wet, which means that, with cars crashing out and being damaged, it’s highly likely that red flags will feature during the race, and the race will then be stopped.
Oftentimes the damaged cars that are out of the race need to be removed, and this process could take several minutes depending on their condition. Sometimes there’s also a need to repair barriers after a crash, in which case the red flag could last more than an hour.
If the rain is too heavy, the race director can choose to bring the red flag out and stop the race immediately. Formula 1 cars can drive in the rain, but there is a point when the rain becomes too heavy and there is too much standing water and puddles around the track, making it almost impossible for the drivers to control their cars.
As we saw at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, rain can also cause the start of the race to be delayed. Red flag conditions could last several hours as the race director waits for the rain to calm down before they can start the Grand Prix. At Spa in 2021, the rain was so heavy that the ‘race’ only consisted of a few laps behind the safety car.
KEY POINTS• F1 can race in the rain, and it makes for some interesting and tricky conditions for the drivers
• There are two sets of wet weather tires the drivers can use: full wets and intermediates
• Rain affects the racing in many ways, largely because it makes things much more unpredictable
• Safety cars and red flags are more likely when it’s wet
How Rain Affects F1 Drivers
Racing in the rain is one of the most challenging aspects of being a Formula 1 driver. There are several different challenges that come with racing in the rain, especially when you’re in a Formula 1 car. Drivers need to fully focus on their abilities in order to keep their cars on track. While they obviously do this in the dry too, a wet track makes it even harder.
Formula 1 drivers will need to call on all of their experience and skills if they’re going to be successful in the rain. As we’ve seen countless times in the past, some drivers struggle to keep their cars under control when it starts to rain, either as a result of their own skill deficits or the cars not being adequately suited to wet weather driving.
The track surface also plays a role in the impact that rain has on the amount of grip that the drivers have. We saw a good example of this in 2020, when the Turkish Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park Circuit had drivers saying they felt like they were driving on ice. This was a result of the track having been resurfaced and the oils in the asphalt leaking to the surface, making for a greasy track.
One of the main factors that will impact Formula 1 drivers when racing in the wet is the visibility. While Formula 1 cars don’t have windshields, there is one element that we don’t normally experience on public roads, and that is the rooster tail that Formula 1 cars create in the rain. The rooster tail refers to the spray that is kicked up behind a Formula 1 car.
The cars create a lot of spray because of the way that they have been designed and the speeds at which they are being driven. Formula 1 cars are open wheel cars, which means that they have no fenders over the wheels. The water is therefore kicked up into the air and this creates spray behind the car. This does happen on road cars, but to a much lesser extent.
The design of the wet weather tires also contributes to the massive amount of spray in the wake of a Formula 1 car. The tires have been designed to disperse water from underneath the tires, and this water needs to go somewhere.
Formula 1 drivers will struggle to see in this wake of spray behind other cars, and oftentimes it can be like driving blind in severely wet weather. Usually, when the spray is this bad, the race will be red flagged, as this is clearly too dangerous. However, races do still go on with a fair bit of spray behind the cars, and the drivers must rely on their skills and knowledge of the track.
Drivers will struggle in several different ways when racing in the wet. The first is that their cars will be sliding around a lot more. The extra understeer and oversteer will mean that the drivers are constantly wrestling their cars to ensure that they are staying in a straight line and going around the corner in the right direction.
The slippery conditions also mean that the rear of the car will have less traction. The rear wheels are entirely controlled by the driver’s right foot and with no traction control, the slightest mistake from a driver can mean that they will end up in a spin facing the wrong way on the track.
Without any ABS, the drivers also need to ensure that they are careful on their brake pedal. The brakes on a Formula 1 car are incredibly strong, but they can also lock up easily, especially if they’re being used on a slippery track. If the driver brakes at the wrong moment, the tires will have no grip and will lock up instantly, sending the car flying off the track.
Drivers will also need to adjust their driving style when it starts to rain during a Formula 1 race. Because of the tricky track conditions, drivers will need to be much more careful than usual, and oftentimes they can’t push as hard as they normally would to get their car around the track as fast as possible.
The racing line is the fastest way around the track under normal circumstances. The more the cars drive on the racing line, the more it is rubbered in. This is when the rubber from the tires is worked into the tarmac. The sections of the track that are rubbered in provide the drivers with more grip, but only in dry conditions.
In the dry, this rubbered in section means the rubber from the cars’ tires is in contact with rubber on the track, making for lots of friction and therefore grip. But when this relatively smooth rubber on the track is wet, it becomes incredibly slippery, more so than the wet but abrasive tarmac or concrete around it.
If it starts to rain, the racing line therefore becomes incredibly slippery, and the track becomes ‘green.’ The rubbered in section becomes the part of the track that the drivers want to avoid at all costs if they’re going to keep their cars on track. The rubbered in parts of the track will cause drivers to slide off the track or lose traction much easier than the more abrasive asphalt.
For this reason, we often see F1 drivers take corners in different ways than they would in the dry, using different racing lines. Drivers will brake and accelerate more towards the middle of the track rather than the usual outside of the track. They sometimes also try to avoid the apex of the corner, which will be rubbered in from all the cars that have driven on that section of tarmac.
Formula 1 drivers can experience a lot of aquaplaning in extremely wet conditions. This often happens when drivers stay out on their slick tires for too long when the rain starts falling during a Grand Prix. However, it can also be so wet that even wet tires cannot disperse enough water to stop the car from hydroplaning.
Aquaplaning or hydroplaning is when there is too much water for the tires to handle. When there is too much standing water on the track, the tires can’t disperse it fast enough, and water gets under the contact patches, causing the tire to lose contact with the surface of the track. When the rubber loses contact with the road, the car loses all of its grip.
This sudden loss of grip is known as aquaplaning, and it’s nearly impossible for the driver to predict or avoid, especially if they can’t see the puddle of standing water ahead of them. Drivers can simply react to what their car is doing and try to recover from the spin as much as they can.
When the car is aquaplaning, a driver will have no control over the car because the tires aren’t touching the surface of the track, which means there is no grip, unlike when they spin in the dry. The FIA will usually intervene before the track conditions become this dangerous though, but we do still see it occasionally.
Is It Ever Too Wet For An F1 Race?
It can be too wet for an F1 race, and if this is the case a race that has already started will be red flagged, and if the race hasn’t yet started, it will be delayed. The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was delayed for 3 hours because it was deemed too wet, and then it was ultimately red flagged.
As much as the rain can bring excitement to a race, it is possible for it to be too wet for one to go ahead or continue. There are certain situations where the safety of the drivers, teams, and marshals are a concern, and this is when the race director will intervene and stop the race by putting out the red flag.
The drivers will be awarded varying amounts of points if the race is not completed, depending on how much of it they managed to complete before the red flag. However, the FIA will still try everything in their power to ensure that the race continues because it’s in the best interest of the drivers, the fans, and the teams.
Safety is still the number one priority though, and the race will never continue if the drivers are at risk. The rain has caused some severe crashes in the past, and everyone is fully aware of the dangers that come with racing in the rain, which is why the FIA and Formula 1 are extremely cautious when racing in the wet.
Racing in wet weather conditions bring a driver’s skill to the forefront, but at some point the weather becomes so bad that skill is not a factor anymore. When drivers can’t keep their cars on track and they’re all aquaplaning, it’s best to bring the race to a stop and wait for the rain to pass and the track conditions to get better.
How F1 Tracks Deal With Rain
When it starts to rain in Formula 1, the FIA will carefully monitor the conditions to ensure that it remains safe for the drivers to continue racing. However, it’s also important for the race track to be prepared for these conditions, especially if it’s in an area known for unpredictable weather conditions.
Tracks need to have proper drainage, which ensures that there are no areas on the track where the cars will encounter standing water on the racing line. Puddles on the track are a recipe for disaster, so this is a crucial factor to consider.
The FIA will send the safety car out on track to test the conditions. The safety car is the best way for the FIA to get real-time feedback on what the conditions are like and whether it’s safe for the cars to head out and continue racing. The safety car can also be used to clear some standing water off the racing line, but it’s only going to be effective if the rain has stopped falling.
Some circuits use tractors and marshals with brooms to clear standing water off the circuit. If the circuit does not have decent drainage this may be the quickest way to clear the puddles off the racing line and get the race restarted as soon as possible, but obviously it’s futile if the rain is still hammering down.
KEY POINTS• Racing in the rain presents F1 drivers with a unique challenge
• They must adapt their driving style and racing lines in order to stay on the track
• If the rain is too heavy and there is a lot of standing water on the circuit, no amount of skill can keep a car on the track
• In these cases, the race will be delayed or red flagged
Should F1 Stop Racing In The Rain?
F1 should not stop racing in the rain, as some of the best and most exciting races in the history of the sport have been in the rain. As long as F1 can continue to do so safely without putting the drivers, teams, and spectators at risk, the drivers should still be able to race in wet weather.
Currently, the FIA are extremely cautious of the rain and any wet weather racing, which can be frustrating for fans, especially those who are attending the race and sitting in the rain waiting for the action to start. However, it’s important to remember that safety always comes first in Formula 1.
The rain provides the fans and the drivers with a lot of excitement, especially when it comes to seeing how skillful these drivers are in the tricky conditions. Taking this element away from the drivers and fans would be extremely disappointing for the entire Formula 1 community.
Wettest F1 Race In History
The wettest F1 race in history is arguably either the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix or the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix. While the Malaysian Grand Prix started under dry conditions and managed 31 laps, the race at Spa never truly started, and it led to changes to the entire points system.
It’s difficult to judge which race was the wettest in the history of Formula 1. There is very little data on the amount of rainfall that each race has had, but over the years there have been some incredibly strong candidates for the title of the wettest Formula 1 race. The most notable candidates are the races that never reached their full completion distance.
2021 Belgian Grand Prix
The top candidate of the wettest Formula 1 race in history is the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, which lasted a total of three minutes and 27 seconds. The treacherous conditions caused the race start to be delayed for about 3 hours.
The race was eventually started under the safety car, but only one lap was completed before the cars were ordered to return to the pits. The race was red flagged, and the results were taken from the end of the first lap, leaving Max Verstappen as the winner claiming half points. The entire race finished after several hours with the only “racing” being one lap under the safety car.
2009 Malaysian Grand Prix
Another candidate for the wettest Formula 1 race is the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix, which started under dry conditions. However, the rain began falling on lap 19. By lap 31 the race had to be stopped early due to torrential rain causing drivers to spin out even though they were running on wet tires. Jenson Button won the race, receiving half points.
F1 does race in the rain, as wet weather tires make it possible for the cars to withstand wet conditions, but it remains incredibly challenging for the drivers. F1 drivers need to adjust their driving style to avoid spinning or crashing in the rain, and it’s a true test of their skills.