Debate: Too wet to race?

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Should the Japanese Grand Prix have been started in heavy rain?

The field lapped the Fuji Speedway for half an hour behind the safety car in pouring rain before the race was finally started.

But some drivers including Nick Heidfeld say it was too wet to race.

When the race finally got going the conditions scarcely seemed any better than when the cars first left the grid.

But crucially there weren’t any deep pools of standing water such as those at the first turn when it rained heavily at the Nurburgring this year.

Should the race go on regardless of how wet it gets? How can the race directors judge when conditions are safe enough?

Photo: GEPA / Franz Pammer

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Debate: Too wet to race?”

  1. I think if there had been a mass ‘offing’ at any of the corners (like at the European GP), then probably it would have been stopped. As it was, there amazingly wasnt much standing water & all the drivers were driving brilliantly & sensibly (well nearly all, Mr Kubica!). In my view, every decision made, seemed to be ther correct one.

  2. no it was fine i dont see why the y cant delay the race start for maybe half hour because in the end they just drove round behind thwe saftey car for half an hour

  3. It was absurd to start the race – the fact that Wurz was punted off from behind, with no way of telling who it was shows this.

    The drivers could barely see out of their own cockpits. We were very lucky that no-one was seriously hurt.

  4. It was tough call to make, but it worked out and we had an exciting race … It would have been different story if some of the accidents ended up in injuries … But the drivers proved that it was possible to race and some gave us exciting on track battle in the last corners….

  5. The problem on this occasion wasn’t the water on the ground – it was the water in the air reducing visibility. I still think the race should have been delayed, though given that conditions improved despite the rain, an outright cancellation was not necessary.

    The problem was assessing when exactly visibility was acceptable. I wonder if getting two GP2 cars and using them to check visibility would work in an instance like this.

  6. I had a very similar thought, Alianora. The problem with relying on feedback from the drivers themselves is that some might have a vested interest in cancelling or delaying a race. I think of Sepang in 2001 when the safety car stayed out very long, handing an advantage to those who had switched to intermediates over wet tyres.

  7. I’m sure if Heidfeld or Button had finished on the podium they wouldn’t be moaning about the weather. When the majority of the field make it to the finish it kind of suggests that the conditions were okay for most of the drivers.

  8. My problem was with the complete arbitrariness of the start. Conditions once the race was under way were not hugely different from the conditions when the SC left the field. And it got worse at the end when it started raining heavily again and there was no SC then. They only got the race underway because of the odd “driver may unlap themselves” rule and so they saw Liuzzi racing round and doing a decent time. And how many laps would the FIA be willing to run behind the SC? 30? 40? The whole race? Where do they draw the line? If the FIA think the SC is going to be out for a while then they should suspend the race properly with the red flag rule. But then the TV schedules would be messed up and we couldn’t have that :-/

    It seems to be much easier to cancel or delay a practice session than a race, which surely says something about the FIA.

  9. Poor Liuzzi was indeed one indicating factor, but didn’t anyone else find it suspicious that the race finished at the same time as the 2h rule? Maybe they saw Liuzzi’s time and calculated that 50 laps x 1min 35 sec roughly equals 1h 20 min, exactly the time that was left after the 40 min safety car round.

  10. That was NOT a race nor was it “exciting” ….. it was a survival test.
    Other points of small interest, why did Ferrari receive the tyre requirment e-mail at 1:37, 7 minutes after the event started?
    Kubica’s drive-thru penalty was UN-justified, there was no maliace involved on a track that wet. Oddly both cars continued with out a change in position. The Luizzi penalty is also suspect and again in that weather can every driver see every flagman on every lap? Use some common sense! Let’s face it folks, Webber and Vettel running 2nd and 3rd……that was NOT a real F1 race.

  11. Jian, given that they would have had to factor in a safety car period and the fact that the track was over five seconds per lap slower at the end of the race than at the start, I reckon it’s just a coincidence!

  12. Number 38, it was indeed a survival test. But you’ve got to admit, there were at least some brilliant moments of racing, like Kimi’s pass round the outside of DC at 100R, or Kubica and Massa’s battle for 6th right at the end.

    And those moments are what make F1 so worthwhile.

  13. I thought tt was less of a survival test than, say, Nurburgring, because though the Fuji conditions were atrocious they were less changeable than the European GP. And it was less a lottery than, say, Brazil 2003, where it was basically luck if the river running across the roas decided to spit you into the wall.

    I enjoyed it, once the SC peeled off anyway.

  14. Grands prix in the rain are always survival tests by definition. Once you accept that races can be run also in the wet, you have to accept this.
    What I don’t like is the abuse of the safety car. 19 laps out of 67 are almost 30% of laps run behind the safety cars. It was getting ridiculous especially considering that the rain conditions at lap 19 were hardly better than lap 1….

  15. In my view the season is better for having a combination of dry and wet races, a really wet race sorts out the great drivers. The leading driver has an advantage in vision but has to define the fastest available time for each lap under the conditions. When people think of great drives by great drivers they think of Schmacher or Senna IN THE WET and to this we should perhaps now add Hamilton. If the driver in McLaren No 2 yesterday had been M Schumacher putting in the same performance the eulogising would be long and loud.

  16. I think the safety car should have been used to start the race as a rolling start, then pulled in. Like an American motor race. I’m sure I remember this happening a few times before. It seems like a sensible solution, given the greater likelihood of accidents at the start of any GP.

    I think it was a good call to oull in the safety car, we saw no more incidents than at, say, Montreal, which was dry. I do remember a GP (very faintly, this must have a been a while ago) that was stopped mid-race for very heavy rain, then restarted again. Anyone know which one?

  17. I don’t understand why they didn’t pull in the safety car in earlier because I have seen worse racing conditions than this, Most notably the first race at Fuji and Suzuka 1994. (Is that the one you were thinking of Zindon).

    I think they were right to start under the safety car, but I don’t think they were right keeping it out for 19 laps.

    I have actually race in conditions worse than this on a go-kart with slick tyres and I could keep it on the road. Then again it was a go-kart, but still, slick tyres on a track that was more of a lake.

  18. Ha ha – look at all the people complaining, I just don’t understand. We don’t get any overtaking all year, then we get more great overtaking in 1 race than all the other races this year put together. Racing in the rain is hard but it is where the talent shows – take Monaco 84 and Estoril 85 – Both if not worse than Fuji – but races that live in F1 legend. If we are deprived of such events, all we will be left with to talking about is “Ooooo do you remember that great 2 stop strategy driver A had over driver B”. Boring! Perhaps every race should be wet – I am not sure that has ever been a boring Wet race….but I am sure there is someone out there that remembers one

  19. I’m not saying a ‘boring’ wet race, but a wet race which wasn’t particularly memorable was the European GP 2000. Yes there was a three car pile-up but the top four cars were the top two teams; Ferrari and McLaren.

  20. It was ridiculous to start the race only if for the fact that a quarter of the race was behind the safety car. That was really boring. They should have red flagged it until they could have raced. Why did they have to waste race time?

  21. I didn’t mind the rain since nobody got hurt, but I wonder why the rules are such that they could have the cars parading around with the safety car like that for so long? It’s no different from a red at that point.

  22. I think one thing that has to be taken into account is how well the track drains. Say what you like about Tilke, he does seem to build tracks that drain well.

    There was a gigantic downpour on Istanbul Park during last year’s WTCC event, the track was totally flooded. But once the rain stopped the standing water drained away remarkably quickly.

    (Unfortunately it seems the storm drains he puts in place for precisely that purpose generate their own problems – they have worked loose at Istanbul and the revised Magny-Cours section this year, causing practice sessions to be halted, and Juan Pablo Montoya hit one at Shanghai two years ago, tearing a hole in the bottom of his McLaren and putting him out of the race.)

    Coping with very heavy rain will be a big challenge for the organisers of F1’s new street races at Singapore and Valencia next year. The Adelaide track saw two massive downpours in 1989 and 1991, the latter forcing the stoppage of the race after 14 laps.

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