Tech Draft: Time for FIA action on wet weather visibility

2021 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday - Jiri Krenek FIA

I must admit that the most frustrating thing for me in the aftermath of the Belgian Grand Prix is that so many commentators do not understand the real problem.

Instead, it seems far too many are focussing their frustrations on things that probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome, and I include some of the sport’s higher powers in this criticism.

Sure, the FIA International Sporting Code is sort of antiquated and could do with a significant review and update, and there are certainly ways that the perceived indecisiveness of the process and the matter of a result being declared with half points should be dealt with, but none of that would have changed the root cause of the inability to race, and that was visibility.

I must admit, I am not convinced that the level of rain experienced at Spa on Sunday necessarily needed to condemn abandoning the race as a fait accompli, and here’s why.

Ever since the first days of designers adopting the use of wide rear tyres and draggy rear wings, F1 cars have produced big rooster tails of spray when running in the wet, but in this modern era of flat bottomed rear diffused, rear winged, highly energetic, and turbulent aerodynamic wake producing machines in conjunction with the wide and most efficient water clearing rain tyres the sport has known, the spray trails are even longer and higher than ever.

However, no research and development has ever gone into changing the size and direction of the trails so that drivers following a car in the wet might have better visibility, simply because there hasn’t been a need to.

And here we are now, post Spa 2021, and I feel that there now is a need to.

By conditioning the treatment of airflow rearwards using specific methods in areas such as the rear wing end plates, the trailing edge of the floor, the ground effect venturi tunnel exits (because there’s no need focussing on 2021), and even the rear ring element itself, the direction and height of the throw of the water being pumped out by the rear tyres can indeed be controlled.

Like anything though, there’s a trade off, and in this case the sacrifice would be downforce, but as the true intent of the new 2022 regulations is the promotion of closer racing and the pursuit of ‘The Show’, then surely a marginal reduction in downforce designed to better promote racing in the wet is a fair compromise, and exactly what all stakeholders would prefer.

Ross Brawn, Nikolas Tombazis, and their team have recently completed their impressive definition and design of the next technical era of F1 and obviously have the knowledge and resources to research and develop such a solution, but in the absence of intent, omitting this consideration, particularly after the events of Spa 2021, would be negligent and short sighted, in my opinion.

Ultimately for Jean Todt, Stefano Domenicali and Ross Brawn, it is time to stop talking about codes, processes, half points and refunds and think hard about the technical solutions that are quite possibly available to them to help lower the risk of something like that which transpired on Sunday from happening again.

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