The themes of 2008: Rain

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Lewis Hamilton won the first wet Monaco Grand Prix for 11 years

Rain was one of the trends that defined the 2008 championship. Talk of the weather was seldom far from people’s lips this year, especially in the second half of the season.

Time and again we were reminded of how a few drops of rain can transform a Grand Prix from a tedious procession into an edge-of-the-seat thriller.

The Monaco, British and Italian Grands Prix were all run in heavy rain – yes, even Monza, which has scarcely seen a drop of rain in 59 years of Grands Prix. Belgium and Brazil both began and ended with wet conditions, and the French round was briefly livened up by a passing shower.

We saw the best of F1 and the best of F1 drivers when it rained: Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen’s gripping battle over the closing laps at Spa; Rubens Barrichello’s unlikely charge to third at Silverstone, Sebastian Vettel’s pole position and win at Monza, Timo Glock’s ballsy run to the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix on dry weather tyres that almost cost Hamilton the title.

People are already calling this season one of the best. If that’s true, then surely a big part of that was the rain – especially its mischievous sense of timing in Brazil.

Has any other season seen as many wet races as this? I can’t think of many that had more than four. In 1993 the first four races were all hit by rain (South Africa, Brazil, Europe (Donington) and San Marino), plus the Japanese round, making five. But six or more is extremely unusual.

Rain was even a story at one place where it didn’t turn up – Singapore. The prospect of racing in the wet at night is still a concern for future Singapore Grands Prix.

Inevitably discussion turned to which F1 drivers are the best in the wet, and Lewis Hamilton came on top in a poll ahead of Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso.

Ferrari might have preferred less rain as the team seemed to struggle to adapt its F2008 to wet conditions. It didn’t stop them winning the constructors’ championship, however.

But I expect most would agree that rain helped make 2008 a memorable season and gave us some of the best races this year. It’s one of the ways in which we may never see a season quite like 2008 for a long time.

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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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21 comments on “The themes of 2008: Rain”

  1. Ferrari might have preferred less rain as the team seemed to struggle to adapt its F2008 to wet conditions. It didn’t stop them winning the constructors’ championship, however.

    This was rather surprising, I must say. Back in the day, Schumacher used to wipe the floor with his competition, especially in wet conditions.

  2. Rain is bad for F1. Given that there has been more overtaking, excitement, controversy and generally great racing in the wet races of 2008 than the dry, I realise that this argument is going to be a hard sell but here goes:

    1. It’s a terrible indictment of F1 that it’s only interesting when it rains. It’s designed as a fair weather sport, which emphasises just how dull it has become when the only interesting races are those the calendar is designed to avoid.

    2. The greater number of on-track incidents in the wet gives more opportunity for the witless and talentless stewards to make blatantly stupid decisions at inopportune moments, thereby reducing further the credibility and watchability of F1.

    3. The in car footage especially is awful. And the long shots of the start/finish straight show mainly mist and spray, with the occasional car. It’s difficult to make that a great viewing spectacle on TV.

    4. The TV commentators, pit-lane reporters and team radio talk incessantly about the weather forecast instead of about the racing. And they’re always wrong. A graphic will flash up saying rain is expected in 5 minutes, cars dash for the pits for extreme wets and then it stops raining. F1 should be about racing, not chatting about the imminence of precipitation. Tactics do play a role, but that should be minor compared to wheel-to-wheel racing. Don’t give James Allen the excuse to talk about Formula 1 being “like two people playing chess … in a garden”.

    5. Rain gives Max Moseley the opportunity to hide under his stupidly large FIA umbrella, instead of letting us smirk at his pathetic , smug, I’ve-done-nothing-wrong expression.

    6. Rain distorts our driver perception. Without taking anything away from little Seb Vettel, the Monza result was something of an anomaly, as he himself has acknowledged. It’s difficult ever to feel sorry for F1 drivers, but had the other petit Seb not had his start line problem, we would have been better able to put klein Seb’s achievements into context and decide whether he is the true heir to the Schumacher krone or if he’s actually a lot closer to his team mate’s pace than Michael ever was to any of his. I’m also probably alone in feeling a teeny bit sorry for Kimi Raikonnen. Some of his performances in 08 were inexplicably weird, but I can’t help feeling the Ferrari drivers were judged by their car’s dry performance, when it was often the class of the field. In the wet it must have been awful. Either that or Kimi was moody and inconsistent, and Massa had serious holes in his talent portfolio.

    7. The unpredictability of the weather places too great an emphasis on random events than on driver or team skill. We bemoan the random element the safety car adds in dry weather – when one driver is penalised because he has to pit under the safety car or run out of fuel, while another perennial back-marker gets lucky when his absurd one-stop strategy comes into play as the safety car comes out at just the right time. But in the rain it’s much worse: a driver’s position in the field is determined hugely by random weather changes. Pit just after the weather changes and you’ve lucked in. Pit just before the weather changes and you might as well go home.

    8. The occasional wet race adds a touch of spice to the season but this actually reduces the impetus to change the regulations to make dry races as interesting as they should be. Why change the technical rules when Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza and Interlagos have been so good? The problem is that every race should be that good, but dry races are not because on the road there is so little overtaking. I know the 2009 regs are supposed to make the racing better by allowing cars to follow more closely in corners and KERS boost buttons giving the drivetrain an extra cough. But that won’t happen if the big change in rules causes a big spread in car performance.

    9. The good aspect of rain can be duplicated in the dry. The drawbacks of rain are many – visibility, safety, randomness, etc. The advantages are few, but it basically comes down to grip, or the lack of it. This places greater emphasis on driver skill, gives greater scope for error, and showcases talent in general. But grip can be reduced in other ways. Run skinny slicks, tiny wings and/or more powerful engines – you’ll get slower corner speeds, higher straight-line speeds and far better racing. Or just spray the track with Nico Rosberg’s leftover hair products.

  3. Mussolini's pet cat
    12th November 2008, 15:14

    Rain is bad for F1?? You’re in a minority there John… Rain helped create the most exciting finale to a GP season EVER!

  4. if the weather continues like this* then it looks like we shall be waiting even longer for the comeback of slicks.

    *clearly a result of global warming caused by motor racing not using green font on their tyres for so long, shame on you MotorSport.

  5. John – I tend to disagree with most of your points there, here is why I think rain during a F1 race does not detract from the spectacle – but rather enhances the product.

    1) The best racing driver is the driver that is performs in ALL conditions thrown at him over a season, not just one type. This works both ways, there have been drivers that are great in the wet but average in the dry (Jean Alesi) By demonstrating you can perform in both conditions brings true credit to your driving skill.

    2) Strategy and decision making is passed to the driver who is the person to call when to come in for the appropriate tyres. This means that preplanned pitstop strategies decided by the engineers with egg shaped heads don’t decide the drivers relative performance the evening before the race.

    3) Rain reduces the difference in car’s performance and allows the drivers real skill to shine through – Fisichella – Sutil – Alonso – Vettle – Hamilton have all put in performances this year that would have never been seen if the dry weather had persisted throughout the year.

    You mentioned there seem to be more incidents that would not have otherwise happen in the dry, but I argue there are plenty of incidents in the dry that happen – not just the wet – take the Canada Pitlane incident as just one of them.

    I also don’t fully understand your analysis of the two Sebastian’s – are you saying you formalised your opinion of Vettle and his relative pace over Bourdias at just one round – Monza, which coincidentally was wet or the whole season – which Vettle consistently proved hands down.

    Like it or not the climate across the globe is changing, and with the weather being wetter than ever F1 has to run in the rain. You just cannot not run F1 because there is a possibility of rain, too much depends on the show happening at 2 o’clock every other Sunday.

    I think teams should consider the impact rain has perhaps had on the F1 title, and perhaps build good handling traits in to the design of the car for wet conditions. It is no point complaining that just because your car is not as good in the wet that you have been cheated out of a championship.

  6. Rain is definitely good for F1.

    But I think; the loss of traction control was more responsible for giving us heart-stopping races. How else could you explain Australia; Canada; Japan giving brilliant races in spite of being dry.

    Even the new safety car rules enhanced the spectacle. But; still the safety car rule should be scrapped.

  7. Has any other season seen as many wet races as this? I can’t think of many that had more than four. In 1993 the first four races were all hit by rain (South Africa, Brazil, Europe (Donington) and San Marino), plus the Japanese round, making five. But six or more is extremely unusual

    I think there were 6 wet races in 2000: Europe, Canada, Germany, Belgium, USA and Japan.

    So it’s only 8 years since the last season to have so many.

  8. Thanks, erm, apostrophe…

  9. Lustigson

    Back in the day, Schumacher used to wipe the floor with his competition, especially in wet conditions.

    I may be a little biased but I think Schumi deserved a lot of the credit for this, Ferrari were good in the wet at that time but he was often (not always) very good in wet conditions throughout his career.

    I love wet races, mainly because they make the cars handle like they used to before the 70’s. It’s all about the drivers abilities & it gives the smaller teams a chance to beat the big teams.

    Scott’s kind of summed it up for me so I’ll just say I agree with what he’s already said.

    Anyone who, like me, is under 30; if you haven’t done already I’d very much recommend getting hold of any videos or DVD’s you can find of old races (pre 1970), watching those guys sliding round the corners at high speed is unreal.

  10. I agree with John Spencer. In my mind it is hypocrisy to complain about safety cars screwing up races, but then to say rain is great. It does much the same thing as the safety car – in fact, one could argue that it increases the chances of a safety car period!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love watching these guys struggle with their car around a wet track, and enjoy finding out who’s who in wet conditions, but I’d certainly rather watch an exciting dry race than a wet one. Especially if I was at the track.

    Thanks John, for putting some good points forward and putting into words my own pet fear about the ’09 regs – that we’ll be watching lapped cars after 10 laps, one team streaking away with 90% of race wins, everyone lapped down to fourth, just like 4 years ago and before. Unless, of course, it rains….

  11. Replying to John
    13th November 2008, 4:48


    i have to agree with most of John Spencers’s points. If you depend on rain/safety car/mad priest running onto the track ala Silverstone 03 for a great race, then what is the point then?

    THEREFORE ALL F1 FANS, we must stand together and congratulate the F1 stewards for spicing up the events by changing the finishing order after the end of a race.

    What could be more exciting than knowing you had overtaken someone clean for the win i.e Spa 08 only to be relegated back to 3rd place? It did give fans and everyone endless talking points!
    What could be more exciting than having a certain team from Italy getting free points in the bag? It sure makes for an exciting title finale!
    What could be more exciting than having a certain driver from Brazil getting free points in the bag and then giving it large by saying if he was champion, he had won it clean without any help? And stupid fans trying to lap it up by saying he was a sporting loser – yeah right, with all the help from FIA, he still couldnt beat a certain bloke from England!
    What could be more exciting than having the FIA head getting in the act himself by trying to keep his ‘deal’ up and having his ‘exploits’ published in a manner in tabloids?

    I have written to FIA to congratulate them on this fabulous contribution by the F1 stewards and Mosley and they have told me that they appreciated that they are being appreciated by fans like me.

    Long may it continue!

  12. if you guys love wet races because the power of the cars doesn’t matter since they can’t floor it and leave it to drivers’ skills, then it also means that you consider equalizing engine power. Simple logic. Isn’t it?

  13. While rain adds a different kind of excitement , it also prevents us seeing the maximum pace of the cars , which for me is one of the most important factors. As for rain being a measure of a good or bad driver , I would agree maybe back in the ’70’s , but modern F1 is much more about car setup. Example : Lewis at Silverstone v Lewis in Brazil (where he battled and then failed to keep Vettel behind him ) / Massa at Silverstone v Massa in Brazil. Let’s hope next year’s rules can produce some equally exciting races in dry weather as we have seen in the wet this year.

  14. A bit off topic, but how do you all think about cars in 2009 aero spec will perform in rain?

    In 2008 without TC, we see cars spinning and sliding like never before. With 2009 spec’s alledged “50% less downforce”, with the same engine output as 2008, will F1 cars in the rain become like Ice Rally?

  15. And to add to my previous post…

    I think Bridgestone flirted with the idea of single spec Rain Tyres for 2009? Wow, what geniuses…

  16. CD

    if you guys love wet races because the power of the cars doesn’t matter since they can’t floor it and leave it to drivers’ skills, then it also means that you consider equalizing engine power. Simple logic. Isn’t it?

    I’d disagree mate.

    What makes wet racing so exciting is the lack of grip, the cars have less grip so the drivers have to work harder to apply the correct amount of power. It’s about how accurately they apply the power they’ve got rather than how much power they’ve got to apply.

    Getting rid of most of the aerodynamics on the cars would give us similar handling characteristics in the dry and would also allow the cars to run a lot closer together at high speed.

    Giving the teams bigger & stickier tyres as well as allowing them to develop better suspension systems would give them a lot of that grip back but we’d still get to see the cars sliding around the corners a lot more as well as requiring more input from the drivers during acceleration & braking.

    Although I know what you mean, really we all want the best of both worlds with the best driver winning as well as the race for technical development between teams.

  17. Toby –

    It is hypocrisy to complain about safety cars screwing up races.

    I think that’s a very simplistic view and I don’t agree with it.

    The safety car is a necessary part of racing. If a driver’s got a 10 second lead, but loses it because the safety car comes out, that’s just the way motor sport is.

    But the current situation with the ‘pit lane closure’ rule is a peculiar aberration which doesn’t have an equal in other motor sports. Yes, drivers can be caught out in the same way in the IRL, but as they have more pit stops, more caution periods and (on ovals) far greater overtaking opportunities, its not the crippling blow to a driver’s race it is in F1.

    In F1 it’s a very poorly conceived rule that creates a situation where a drivers’ race can be near-destroyed, entirely at random. The counter-argument that it can happen to every driver and therefore it levels out over the course of the season is a fallacy. Only a small number of drivers had their races ruined in such a fashion this year, and we should be grateful it didn’t happen to either of the championship contenders at Interlagos.

    Wet weather, on the other hand, affects every driver.

    CD – I don’t agree that what makes wet weather racing exciting is the ‘equalisation’ effect – it’s the loss of grip.

    Freeman – Single spec rain tyres work fine in other series, so it might be a workable idea. I’ve heard before (and perhaps more technical people can enlighten me further) that slicks, as we’ll have next year, cope with damp conditions better than grooved dry weather tyres. Therefore, maybe they can eliminate the need for a ‘standard wet’ (formerly known as the ‘intermediate’). It would mean they could ship far fewer tyres and therefore save money, so I think it’s worth considering.

  18. Keith:

    I’ve heard before (and perhaps more technical people can enlighten me further) that slicks, as we’ll have next year, cope with damp conditions better than grooved dry weather tyres.

    I think this is because the tyres have a larger contact patch without the grooves so the grip is higher in damp conditions.
    The problem with slicks comes with standing or running water. As the tyre is unable to lift the water off the track the water maintains its surface tension and a thin film of water builds up between the tyre & the track surface resulting in aquaplaning.

    Unless you get a sudden down poor that soaks the track very quickly the heat generated by the cars running over the racing line generally keeps it dry enough for the cars to run in damp conditions.

    That’s what I’ve been told anyway.

  19. Not just Lewis Hamilton, but the effect of the rain itself has given the wet races a feel of rally.

    I used to think that rally was a higher form of motorsport than F1, but the effects of weather this season have shown me otherwise.

    I feel compelled to repeat an earlier comment; this year’s champion was the rain.

  20. If you speak to a meteorologist (sp?) they’ll tell you that rain was predicted in north Europe for all of the summer this year. Why? I’m not sure, but I’ve got a pretty good hunch that El Nino has something to do with it.

  21. I agree with John Spencer: I don’t mind to have one or two wet races to spice things and test the drivers, but from there to use the rain as the ‘generator’ of the spectacle all the year there is a long path.

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