BusyFormula #030: The thrilling yet terrifying reality of wet F1 races

It wasn’t so long ago that Formula One fans craved a wet race and the excitement that comes along with it. After all, the more recent F1 seasons had been dubbed somewhat of a snoozefest. 

Rain is the one equalizer. Conditions that make the driver rely on their mastery of driving as an art and less on the insane technology strapped to their backs.

And who can blame the fans? A wet track throws so many curveballs that the drivers are holding onto the steering wheels for their literal lives. 

The already wild 2021 Formula One season has more than obliged the fans, providing several weekends for teams to unwrap either the blue- or green-striped tires. In terms of excitement and unpredictability, the weather delivered.

However, despite the thrill fans might have of catching a glimpse of red lights disappearing into a plume of spray, wet races also serve as a sobering reminder of just what the drivers go through for our entertainment.

From simple trips off the tarmac to downright dangerous crashes and everything in between, we take a look at the thrilling – often terrifying – spectacle that is wet weather racing.

Heroic moments borne of weeping weather

When the skies let loose during a race weekend, it makes for an edge-of-the-seat spectacle for fans and drivers alike. More so for the drivers.

In 2020, Sir Lewis Hamilton pulled off one of the most outstanding performances in the rain, pumping in a standing-ovation-worthy qualifying lap. He crossed the line 1.2 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor at the Styrian Grand Prix.

And let’s not forget the Turkish Grand Prix from the same year. Lewis suffered through a horrific qualifying session where he was about 5 seconds off pole. However, when it came to the business end of the weekend, Lewis clinched his seventh world title with a peerless drive, an entire half-minute ahead of second-placed Sergio Perez.

These recent conquerings of wet tarmac pale in comparison to Hamilton’s handiwork in the torrential rain at Silverstone 2008. While veterans spun in the treacherous conditions, Lewis showed why he would go on to win the championship that year – in the wet, no less – and many more in the subsequent decade.

Casting an eye back further, rain has made for some of the best demonstrations of Formula One racing. From Sir Jackie Stewart’s heroics at the 1968 German GP, Ayrton Senna’s wet racing clinic at the 1985 Portuguese GP and Michael Schumacher in Ferrari red at Circuit de Catalunya 11 years later.

Unfortunately, loose skies have also been behind some of the saddest moments in the sport’s history.

Torrent and tragedy

In the build-up to THAT crash on the Nordschleife at the 1976 German GP, Niki Lauda questioned the track’s safety, even going as far as attempting a boycott of the race. And it didn’t help that rain had lashed the narrow track, making driving even more perilous.

Fortunately, despite the injuries, Lauda made it out alive and continued his racing career.

But other drivers haven’t always been so fortunate when operating the powerful race cars in treacherous conditions.

The 2014 Formula One Japanese Grand Prix cast a dark cloud over the entire motorsport community. Typhoon Phanfone drenched the track, making driving impossible due to the low grip and visibility the conditions afforded the cars.

It was no surprise, therefore, that the race was red-flagged after only two laps. Finally, however, the rain eased off, and the race was continued with a few spins and run-offs here and there.

But disaster struck on lap 43 – with heavy rain having resumed on lap 36 – when Jules Bianchi’s Marussia slid off the track and hurtled towards a tractor crane at over 200kph. Bianchi was extricated from the car and rushed to hospital, but he lost the battle for his life 20 days later.

Safety measures have since been implemented, but there are always a few rainy days that have thrown a spanner in the works.

Cloudy controversies

Rain has had a hand in some of the most controversial moments in Formula One racing.

Take, for instance, the 1984 Monaco GP. The skies opened up over the principality on race day, delaying the race start for about 45 minutes. However, the conditions continued to be detrimental to driving due to limited visibility.

Clerk of the Course Jacky Ickx stopped the race at the end of the 32nd lap with Ayrton Senna ahead of Alain Prost. However, Prost was granted the victory because, according to the rules, classification was based on the running order on the penultimate lap.

Eyebrows were raised at the fact that Porsche-affiliated Ickx made a decision that helped a Porsche-powered car win the race.

Additionally, because the curtailed race hadn’t even run to halfway, half points were awarded, with Prost gaining 4.5 points. Had the race continued to three-quarter length, he’d have gotten the full 9 points for a win or 6 for second place.

Here’s the kicker, he lost the driver’s championship by half a point.

The 2021 Belgian GP was marred by rain-fuelled controversy. After a lengthy delay, only 2 laps were run behind the safety car in atrocious, non-race-worthy conditions. However, classification resulted in half points being awarded, with Max Verstappen in the lead and Hamilton third, allowing the former to close the gap on the latter.

And after what happened at Spa, dreary weather forecasts don’t whet the fan’s appetite for grooved tires anymore.

However, we still have Brazil on the race calendar, a track that more than always has rain as the backdrop of the racing spectacle. And none springs to mind faster than the race that awarded Hamilton his maiden crown.

Needing only fifth position to win the championship from Felipe Massa, Hamilton found himself going into the final corners of the wet track in sixth. In fact, Massa and co. were already celebrating their victory in the Ferrari garage.

Dramatically, Hamilton went past a struggling, dry-weather-tire-running Timo Glock to clinch fifth position and his first F1 title.

How’s that for thrilling?

Mark B. Mugaanyi has spent the last 10 years crafting content on a variety of topics including eCommerce, health, auto, technology and startups. Away from pounding on the QWERTY, he enjoys getting engrossed in a thick tome or getting first downs on Madden. To learn more about Mark’s freelance writing services, reach out here.