Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021

Vettel denies modern drivers are more risk-averse after Spa non-race

2021 Dutch Grand Prix

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Formula 1’s decision not to race at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend does not show drivers are less willing to take risks than they used to be, says Sebastian Vettel.

The Aston Martin driver believes changes in car and tyre design over the years have worsened visibility problems and made them less well-suited to very wet conditions.

But Vettel insisted drivers are no less willing to compete in heavy rain than when he made his debut during 2007, a season which saw an extremely wet race at Fuji in Japan.

“I think the appetite for risk is the same as it was back then,” said Vettel. “I think we’re happy to race providing it’s safe.

“The cars have changed, yes. I think there’s significantly more ground effect with the cars that we have now or more downforce. We seem to suck more water off the ground.

“The tyres have changed as well. I think the extreme wet tyres that we had, from what I remember of those days, made it easier for us to race in very, very wet conditions with a lot of water on the track. I think those are probably the key differences.”

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Fernando Alonso gave a similar explanation to Vettel, highlighting the decision to widen F1 cars and tyres in 2017 as a contributing factor.

Alonso and Vettel tangled in streaming wet 2007 Fuji race
“The visibility was the biggest thing that he changed over the years,” he said. “I think the cars for whatever reason or the new aerodynamic rules, they have more spray when you are running behind people.

“Our tyres are wider now than what they were in 2007. Probably the extreme tyres were a little bit stronger back then. Maybe the size of the tyre was helping for the aquaplaning.”

The nature of the Spa track also contributed to the problem, said Alonso. “Spa being that high speed, these long straights, the spray was holding there for a long time. So I think the conditions were not suitable to race.”

While Alonso backed the decision not to race, he continued to criticise the decision to award points for an event where drivers only lapped behind the Safety Car.

“It was just a matter of time that a big accident could happen and I think the FIA wanted to avoid that and that was the right call. Giving the points, this is a different thing, I totally disagree with that. But the conditions to not race, I totally agree.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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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13 comments on “Vettel denies modern drivers are more risk-averse after Spa non-race”

  1. Jonathan Parkin
    2nd September 2021, 18:22

    I agree with all of these points. I also don’t believe Parc Ferme conditions helped because if you have a dry weekend up to the race, you can’t optimally change the car for a wet set up, plus there is no acclimatisation session before the race either

    1. I am constantly baffled by the Parc Ferme rule in these situations. Acclimatisation can be achieved by multiple formation laps so a warmup is replaced this way.

      We could have a rule that there is no Parc Fermé in case of a wet race. They could announce whether the race is declared wet 2 or 3 hours before the race. That is enough time to re-setup the cars. There could also be a minimum ride height for a declared wet race to reduce the chance of aquaplaning.

      Of course this would mean no one ever sets up their car anticipating a wet race but I don’t think they do it anyways.

  2. Such a shame tyres and cars changed in a way that it’s no longer possible to race in torrential rain, those races are the best to watch.

    1. Couldn’t agree more ! Surely we want to see F1 drivers coping with every and all
      conditions thrown at the competitors. Being highly adaptable to difficult condtions
      is surely the hallmark of the very best of the best. If a race driver can’t cope with
      all the weather conditions he’s likely to encounter in his career…what the hell is
      he doing there in the first place ?

      Reply moderated
  3. These are good points. I think the drivers today take more risks than drivers did in the past in part because the cars are far safer. Combining this with a super wet track that WILL cause cars to crash by hydroplaning would be really dangerous, especially at a track with high speed corners not to mention a blind high speed corner.

  4. One thing we might as well do is lug around less of those Pirelli full wet tyres and switch them for more intermediates, seeing as basically the teams will avoid them at all costs. If it’s too wet for inters we are generally not racing any more anyway, and as it stands the number of sets of inters is marginal for a weekend that is consistently wet across the full three days.

    Reply moderated
  5. Anyone asserting drivers are less risk averse based on Spa 2021 can’t be taken seriously, but that’s never stopped journalists from asking silly questions.

  6. Thing with the width of cars/tires is that the cars are no wider now than they were before 1998 & the tires are I think actually narrower now than they were up until 1993. As such I don’t think it’s the size of the cars or tires that are creating more visibility problems now but maybe more the way the aerodynamics work, Specifically where the airflow is directed around the cars.

    Even looking at things like how the floor/diffuser maybe sucks more water up off the track now I think the diffusers are less effective in that regard than they used to be & certainly the ground effect of the floor is less than it was in the past & less than it will be from next year when they will have the venturi tunnels & I think a larger floor area in general.

    The full wets may not be as good as the Bridgestones in terms of overall grip but maybe they are displacing more water now than tires were in the past which may again be contributing to more spray.

    However I do also think that they are more likely to halt a race now than they once were because I think 20+ years ago even with the level of visibility they had I think they would have raced because unless you had dozens of cars flying off the track on the straights they just got on with it back then & even then races which probably shouldn’t have gone ahead ended up going ahead often with only a handful of cars surviving until the end.

    I guess the way I would phrase it is that drivers of today aren’t more risk averse than drivers of the past, The sport is just more sensible when it comes to safety than it was in the past.

  7. Of course they are more risk averse, despite having the safest ever cars, safest ever circuits and the largest ever salaries.

    I was watching Spain 1996, Fuji 2007 and Adelaide 1989 – all worse or equally bad in far less safe cars. Shameful really.

    1. Not shameful at all. Formula one as a global company will be tangled up in types of insurance and risk assessment that simply didn’t exist before, we live in a different time now where liability for something can have huge ramifications. My second to last job in the UK was as a gardener in Kew Gardens, you wouldn’t believe the paper trial for risk assessment, Imagine how it would be for F1 and the law suits involved, particularly after the loss of Jules Bianchi. My issue of Sunday was calling it a race. It should have just been abandoned

      1. Surely a waver can be drawn up to bypass some of that?? I understand all the red tape which is everywhere now, but you’d think with something which is inherently dangerous they’d make it all a bit easier.

        Yes it should have been abandoned and refunded.

  8. Although I must say I have seen worse weather in which races have been held, the combination of the nature of the track, the recent pile up on Eau Rouge made worse with Lando spinning and the potential media and social media scrutiny/backlash if there was any accident, led to this decision of ticking the checkboxes without a race.

    Reply moderated
  9. Maybe the drivers aren’t more risk averse than before, but the sport is.

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