Rain - adapt to win PDF Print E-mail
Back in the founding years of Formula 1, it was enough to glance up at the sky. Today, the teams invest a large amount of money and time in the most accurate weather forecasts possible, on which they then base their race strategies. But despite state-of-the-art satellite technology, they are never safe from unpleasant surprises. The approach of a rain front in particular sets off alarm bells with the strategists on the pit wall.  Video available here !

 

Even in Formula 1, the weather does exactly what it wants to. The job of the meteorologists is one of the most delicate and thankless in motor racing’s top class. Nature does not always make their job easier, as at the 2004 Japanese Grand Prix, when a full-blown typhoon off the coast sent heavy rainstorms across the country and flooded the track. Usually, their work consists of analysing a multitude of weather data and then drawing the correct conclusions. An incorrect forecast can have disastrous effects on the cars’ performance during racing.

 

The recommendations the meteorologists pass on to their teams’ strategists must take into account not only performance but also safety – on a wet circuit, the usual conditions are turned entirely on their head. “If it rains,” says WilliamsF1 Team driver Mark Webber, “you’re under much more pressure.” If it starts to rain during the race, the drivers have to adjust to impaired visibility and other changed conditions within seconds. How late can I start braking? Should I race around the puddles? And most importantly: how much grip am I left with? The rubber build-up which improves the cars’ grip along the racing line is often washed away when it rains. As a consequence, the cars are more likely to slip and the drivers more likely to make a mistake.

In everyday traffic, drivers also need to be aware of additional hazards when driving on wet roads. “Above a speed of roughly 70 kilometres-an-hour, a water depth of only a couple of millimetres is enough to reduce the tyres’ grip to less than 20 percent,” Dr Christoph Lauterwasser of the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) explains.

The water gets in between the tyres and the asphalt and in extreme cases the tyre actually begins to skate across the water, resulting in aquaplaning. The water therefore needs to be displaced through the grooves and channels of the tyre’s tread. Dr Lauterwasser says: “At higher speeds, each tyre moves a body of water corresponding to several bucketfuls every second. That can only work if the tyre tread has sufficient depth. This should be at least three to four millimetres, which for wider tyres is the absolute minimum in wet conditions.”

When the Formula 1 weather forecasters predict rain, the strategists on the pit wall start doing some serious thinking. The fact that the conditions during rainfall rarely remain constant, often changing from one minute to the next, poses a particularly difficult challenge.

They need to determine the difference in lap times amid the changing conditions and then pinpoint the precise moment at which it will make sense to change from dry-weather tyres to intermediates or full wets – and vice-versa once the track begins to dry again. “It’s during the latter phase of drying that races are decided, as the lap times improve very quickly,” says Sam Michael, Technical Director for the WilliamsF1 Team.

The regulations of Formula 1 offer various options for reacting to rain. If it begins to rain just before the start, for example, the race director can abort the starting procedure, thereby providing the teams with the opportunity to change the tyres.

In heavy rain, he can order a flying start following a lap behind the safety car or postpone the start of the race. Should the conditions on the track become too dangerous because it begins to rain, or because the rain becomes heavier, he has the option of sending out the safety car. The teams can then change to intermediates or full wets. If that is not sufficient to ensure the drivers’ safety, the race can be aborted or restarted later.

While the teams used to have a lot of options for adjusting the cars to rain, the changes to the set-up allowed today are minimal: the cars must start the race with the same set-up used during qualifying. Nevertheless, the teams always make preparations for a possible wet-weather race before every grand prix, even though serious changes to the basic set-up only make sense if it is absolutely certain it will be raining throughout the entire race, which is rare. According to the statistics, Formula 1 only ever experiences a pure wet-weather race once every 10 years.


Allianz Safety Check: Suzuka International Racing Circuit
- by WilliamsF1 Team driver Mark Webber:

“This is a very varied track and one of the greatest challenges Formula 1 has to offer. It’s very difficult to achieve a perfect lap on this track. It’s full-throttle for 62 percent of the time and does not tolerate a single mistake. The physical and psychological strains on the drivers are very high. In terms of safety, Suzuka is not up to today’s standards. Though the run-off zone of the super-fast R130 corner was widened last year, a lot of dangerous points remain which should be made safer.”

images and text acknowledgement: Allianz.com

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 July 2007 14:43
 

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