Does F1 only need slicks and wets? The case for dropping intermediate tyres

2022 Japanese Grand Prix

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Once, the prospect of rain during a Formula 1 race always added to the intrigue and excitement surrounding a grand prix.

Changing conditions plus reduced and unpredictable grip levels increase the challenge and make it easier to appreciate which drivers have the skills to master their cars.

But in order for that to be true the drivers need to be on the track in the first place. That is happening less frequently when rain hits.

Last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix was the latest example. A two-hour hiatus occurred when heavy rain fell at the track. Thanks to that, plus F1’s unnecessarily restrictive three-hour time limit, Japan’s enthusiastic fans saw barely more than half a grand prix.

Full wets have deeper tread than intermediates
Race winner Max Verstappen is convinced F1 has become less willing to risk racing in very wet conditions.

“When it rained like it did when the red flag came out, and you would have put [full wet] tyres on, I think it would still be really difficult to drive,” he said. “But then if you compare that to 20 years ago, that would have been perfectly fine. So there must be a solution.”

Verstappen’s criticism of the wet weather tyres is borne out entirely by what happened on Sunday. Drivers left the pits to restart the race on full wets because they were required to by the rules. However as soon as the Safety Car headed for the pits they changed to intermediate tyres.

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Two drivers even followed the Safety Car into the pits to change at the first available opportunity. This proved the correct decision, handing Sebastian Vettel and Nicholas Latifi gains of up to 10 places. The rest of the field made a beeline for the pit entry as soon as they glimpsed their rivals’ purple mini sector times.

Drivers are forced to use full wets in some circumstances
This has become so commonplace the race director anticipated it happening, and issued a pre-race clarification to teams of how the rules regarding the mandatory use of wet weather tyres during rolling starts. (A pity no one thought to do the same with respect to the points system, but that’s another debate.)

This begs an obvious question: If F1 wants to force drivers to use wet weather tyres on safety grounds due to rain, why offer them an attractive alternative? To put it another way, what purpose does the intermediate tyre serve?

During the ‘tyre war’ years of the early nineties, teams first latched onto the potential performance gain they could find in damp conditions from a tyre which was close to a slick but with a very light tread. That would allow the surface to warm up more quickly and give better grip. Some teams even hand-cut slick tyres for this purpose, back when the rules were much looser than today.

That led tyre companies to add intermediate rubber to their ranges. It was a cost they were willing to meet when the reward was beating their rivals on-track.

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But the tyre war ended 15 years ago and now Pirelli has only itself to beat. So why continue making intermediate tyres? Other series which have single tyre suppliers, such as IndyCar, only offer slicks and fully treaded wet weather tyres.

Indianapolis Grand Prix, 2022
IndyCar drivers have slicks and wets only
By doing away with intermediates, F1 could resolve its wet weather headache at a stroke. There may also be other benefits: As drivers would have to run on full wet weather tyres for longer in wet conditions, it would accelerate the rate at which the track dries out.

Pirelli would also be able to concentrate their wet weather tyre development on a single product instead of two.

It’s not a satisfying solution. Intermediate tyres offer better lap times and so it’s understandable drivers would rather have them.

Verstappen has offered to do the leg work of testing new wet weather tyres. Whether F1 feels it can justify the cost of additional wet weather tyre testing remains to be seen.

Something needs to change, however. F1 drivers have been asking for better wet weather tyres for years with little obvious sign of improvement. “Once there’s too much water, the inter doesn’t work any more and the [full] wet only has a very very narrow window where it works,” explained Sebastian Vettel eight years ago.

Even when the track is very wet, F1 drivers prefer intermediates
But the performance of the wet weather tyres is only one part of F1’s problem with running in the rain. By Verstappen’s admission, he largely did not suffer from the other part – visibility – as he spent most of the race in the lead.

The sheer volume of water thrown up by the current cars and wet weather tyres further limits F1’s ability to race in the rain. This has increased since 2017, when cars became 11% wider and – most significantly – the tyre widths grew as well. F1 cars produce even more rain in the spray than they once did.

The series has already indicated it will consider reducing the dimensions of its cars when the chassis regulations are revised in 2026. This may prove a better step towards enabling drivers to race in the rain than forcing them to use wet weather tyres.

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2022 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

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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51 comments on “Does F1 only need slicks and wets? The case for dropping intermediate tyres”

  1. All good points. Sign me up.

    1. There is no problem to solve. The website just needs more discussion points than usual to keep traffic and clicks going on a non racing weekend. I don’t blame them.

      1. Depends very much on whether you think F1 could/should be racing in wet weather. If you think it’s fine that they pretty much cancel a race of there are a few spots of rain, then your right. If you think that the supposed best drivers in the world should be able to demonstrate their skills in challenging conditions, then there is a problem to solve (whether this is the solution or not).

    2. Coventry Climax
      16th October 2022, 2:06

      I beg to differ:
      ” F1 cars produce even more rain in the spray than they once did.”

  2. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    14th October 2022, 13:49

    Wasn’t there lots of excited people claiming the new regulations would limit the spray based on the lowering of the turbulent dirty air?

    The tyre picks up the water and throws it up in the air just the same.

    Clip on mudguards just for the wet?

    1. Actually, I remmeber the predictions being the complete opposite. It was always expected that spray would be worse, as ground effect sucks the water from the track, then the diffuser throws it into the air. The whole car is designed to thrown its wake above the car behind. So I don’t know anyone who was claiming spray would be better this year?

  3. As I commented a few days ago, the tire solution I see for the current cars would be to bring both wet weather tread patterns closer to the slick. There is no need for a tire that can handle much more water than the current intermediate does, if it’s that wet they can’t race anyway because of visibility. It could be simplified down to just a single tire, but I think there is room to have two still, just closer together. One that can handle some water, and one that is more for actual intermediate conditions when the track is drying or just damp and greasy. These cars will never race in standing water anyway, so why bother with a tire that can handle it?

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      14th October 2022, 13:55

      This is a super point! agreed!

    2. “These cars will never race in standing water anyway” – if you compare the aquaplaning speed of road cars using premium tires and speed of F1 cars it’s very clear that racing and standing water don’t go together.

  4. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
    14th October 2022, 13:54

    Ridiculous idea to have “no” intermediate tire in F1… maybe Pirelli should work on making a better wet tire instead? You need both full wet and inters because if conditions are anything like Turkey a couple years ago, that would be impossible to expect full wets to last and not dry enough for slicks for the majority of that race. If we are talking sprint races, then it wouldn’t be an issue, but this isn’t sprint racing! This idea is right up there with Ecclestone’s stupid sprinkler idea!

    1. This idea is right up there with Ecclestone’s stupid sprinkler idea!

      Ah, you mean the best idea that will never be implemented in F1?

      It’s really interesting that everyone scoffed at the idea then, but now it comes up as a serious suggestion quite often.
      Says a lot about how F1 has been going since then, and perhaps how the audience has changed.

      1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
        14th October 2022, 14:19

        I never liked the idea and always thought it was ridiculous on face value. I’m not a fan of artificial things with racing and that includes DRS.

        1. Not a fan of artificial things, and yet you watch F1?
          Almost every aspect of it is artificial.

          1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
            14th October 2022, 14:58

            Outside of DRS, there isn’t much artificial aspects in F1 or at least that impacts on track racing! Let’s remove the FIA’s inability to adequately manage rules and race weekends. I think we all can agree they are all over the map in that area.

        2. I would consider the extent of electronics, mappings, semi-auto transmission, track surfaces, audio cues, radio messages to be all artificial.

          People selectively pick changes occurring recently as artificial in comparison to how F1 has evolved over decades.

          Frankly, don’t give a damn, just watch it as entertainment now because it is not a serious sport, though I have full appreciation for the engineers working within the prescribed artifical formula.

          1. @f1g33k whilst this – perhaps – a subjective area, I can’t say I agree with this at all.

            The items you list as artificial are merely evolutionary elements of the car and team in order to increase performance. This is much of the heart of the sport, and always has been. It has merely been more technology driven as such technologies become available.

            Sprinklers are an unnatural random element, much like fanboost and DRS**.

            ** It is really the application of DRS rather than the technology itself which is artificial. Though there would of course be little point in having it if anyone could use it any time they liked.

          2. Coventry Climax
            16th October 2022, 1:59

            @cairnsfella, but there’s no ‘reply’ button under that comment:

            ** It is really the application of DRS rather than the technology itself which is artificial. Though there would of course be little point in having it if anyone could use it any time they liked.

            First we saw the arrival of flexible aero parts, which were just the next

            evolutionary elements of the car and team in order to increase performance.

            Then the FIA banned that. Then the FIA came up with DRS, which is basically the same thing, only much more hampered and regulated by the stupid FIA rules around it.

            Then the FIA comes with the wonderful idea of having the cars consume less energy, so they increase the minimum weight to combat tank level which takes insane amounts of extra energy to drag around a circuit, make the cars wider so they suffer from an increased frontal area and can also generate even more dirty air, and still prohibits flexible aero parts although their means to check on that are severely flawed.

            So, “little point in having it if anyone could use it any time they liked.”?
            Excuse me? Fully free use -and preferably design as well- of DRS would give us back the option to see the difference between skilled drivers and mediocre ones, as well as the difference between well designed systems and less well designed systems, with the really skilled drivers just being better than others at optimising the use of their DRS systems. It would -partly- give us back car designs with a focus on different areas, while still being close to another performance wise. That’s what used to be interesting about F1.
            Also, if energy saving is so important to the FIA, then why the counterproductive rule and limit the use of DRS? Combined and cynical: The least energy is used when the bad drivers spin off well before the end of the race, due to their inability to correctly judge when and where to engage DRS. And those that do manage to use DRS more than others and get to the finish, save more fuel, so they could have started with less to begin with. That’s another aspect we’ve lost, thanks to the FIA.
            There’s drivers better at optimising the settings of the brake balance, diff and whatnot, than others. What’s the difference compared to DRS?
            It’s not ‘little point’, but a huge point that you just missed altogether.

            I’m not a fan of DRS, but I could live with it if only it’s use and design were fully free.

    2. Keith suggests dropping Intermediates *and* improving Wets. Or more precisely dropping Intermediates encourages Pireili to improve the Wets.

      1. If this went ahead I think what you will find is that the tyre that is dropped will be the “Wets”. The intermediates would become the “Wets” – but hopefully slightly improved.

  5. With F1’s eternal fascination with downforce, aero and laptimes, they clearly won’t be suddenly making technical regs and cars that go back on those features. Which means they will inevitably be doing a decreasing amount of wet racing year-on-year, as the spray will only continue to get worse as a result.

    It would be sensible, in that case, to shift the intermediate to a more durable compound and construction, perhaps with a slightly deeper cut to reduce the potential for aquaplaning. The inter has consistently proven itself to be a good design, covering a wide range of working conditions.
    It would make no sense to alter the wet as they’ll immediately overheat it in drying conditions with such small tread blocks.

    Really though – the problem is the same as it is with almost every other issue in F1. The technical regs are so focused on one thing that the cars are terrible at doing everything else.
    Fix the cars so they race well in all conditions, and most of the other problems subside.

  6. I’m for replacing all three with just two types:
    1. Wet tyre which is somewhere between the current wet and intermediate as far as wet weather performance goes.
    2. Dry tyres with grooves in them. These grooves could potentially channel water out but the biggest benefit they would provide is to put a coloured stripe in the groove to allow the viewers at home to identify the compound. (If you know you know.)

    1. Considering how popular the grooved tyres were at the beginning of the millennium, I am pretty sure your suggestion will find plenty of support.

      1. Grooved tyres was mostly just a rallying cry for all perceived ills of the sport. I doubt more people then could explain the workings of a tyre than can do so today. There’s a reason F1 simplifies it to ‘red is fast’ and ‘white lasts long’. That’s the level they know the audience understands. Very few viewers could provide meaningful commentary on how tyres work, how temperature affects grip, how camber affects load and wear, the actual physical difference between compounds, or how the intricacies of thread patterns influence all these things.

        If we can trust FOM’s own reported global audience numbers, grooved tyres did not stop F1 from having its most successful and popular (generally the same thing) decade ever in the early 2000s.

        1. The color and tire name simplification was a good idea given the ridiculousness of naming convention before.

    2. This is why F1 should take all fans suggestions with a pinch of salt. Fans often don’t know what they want, nor know any better than people running the sport. Fans suggestions are often ridiculous and sometimes downright stupid. Every now and then one may come up with a food idea, but by and large, it’s not worth listening to.

  7. There doesn’t need to be a solution, because there is no problem.

    Call the intermadiates wets, and the wets call monsoon tyres. Fixed.

    1. That is probably true since back when we had monsoon tyres they never really raced in those conditions, same as they do now with full wets.

    2. Intermediates don’t work in heavy rain. That is the problem.

      1. F1 doesn’t race in heavy rain either – even with full wet tyres….

      2. Coventry Climax
        16th October 2022, 2:05

        F1 don’t work in heavy rain anymore. That is the problem.

        1. If there is any problem with wet weather and F1, this is the one which needs fixing.

          I doubt getting rid of inters world improve matters much. The biggest issue is visibility. This has got steadily worse over the years, due to aero and tyre size (among other things), plus the sport has grown increasingly concerned with safety (which I’m not saying is a bad thing). Unless the visibility can be improved to a level where it’s is safe for the cars to race in wet conditions, I doubt we will see why changes to the way wet taxes are handled.

          For me, I think they should try some simple wet weather modifications to the cars: e.g. “mud flaps” sand other additional guards to reduce spray, narrower tyres, maybe some added aero parts for wet weather conditions to divert spray. Basically, to improve this, they’d need to revert to having full wet setups in some form or another, rather than just wet weather tyres. I’m not sure how well it would work, but it would be worth investigating. Also maybe worth looking into better rain lights.

          Long story short, no matter how good the tyres, how much grip the drivers have our how good the drivers are, if they cannot see they cannot race.

  8. To me the real question is, why do we have full wet tyres if we can’t race with them? We waited 2h for the rain to ease off, to the point of reaching the crossover to intermediate tyres. So, that makes the full wets virtually useless.

    1. Wets are probably still useful if the track is wet with occasional rivers / puddles but a lot of the time it’s not really like that. The rain always drains away at modern tracks but in torrential rain there can be too much everywhere. Suzuka was an example of that. By the time the race got started there wasn’t really areas with big puddles. When it was raining heavily the tyres just created too much spray. They are almost working too well!

    2. Not sure when it was, but years ago, when the teams could choose tyres, M. Schumacher realized that if it was wet enough to require Full-Wets, they wouldn’t start the race. So he fitted Inters and drove away from everyone else. Hence the current rule that everyone starts on Full Wets.
      Apart from The Rule, nothing has changed.
      Rivers and standing water is a track management and maintenance issue. Easily fixed, but someone needs to want to do it. Brazil is a classic eg. of not fixing the problem. It ain’t rocket science.
      Eliminating Inters will last until the first wet to dry race when the teams attempt to do the transition and there is an accident caused by the speed differential and the slick runners all sitting at the side of the track. Instant Red Flag. Reap what you sow.
      Solve the problem, but establish just what it is first.

      1. Spa 1997. The first ever race to start behind the safety car. Three laps behind it and played into hands of those who started on inters.

  9. They really only ran a few laps in the last race. Why have any form of wets if they don’t run on them?

    1. Because they haven’t solved the spraying problem which greatly affects visibility. Basically the wet tires are TOO good at their job. It’s a problem that’s getting worse because the widths of the cars and tires have grown larger.

  10. It is easy, put on those wets and race. Dangerous? Don’t race. Shut up. In 1969 three men propped in a tin can put on a rocket with 160.000.000 Hp went to the moon, landed and came back. What has happened to men since then?

    1. We got 50+ years more experience? Sure, I often think that if the individuals involved are willing to take the risks just let them do it. Whatever it is they are doing. That will get a lot of stuff done, and for a lot lower monetary costs. Just like the 60’s when a lot of world records where set that lasted for half a century. But once, back in the day, it was also completely logical to go racing without seatbelts. We have more experience now and know that is a stupid idea.

      1. However there are people who overestimate the risks in wet conditions, I’ve been watching this race in streaming and in the comment section there were people going overboard for safety, when I brought up spain 1996 one even said “people crashed in spain 1996!”, if a crash is bad then they shouldn’t race even in the dry! Realistically, no one died between 1982 and 1994, then 2 drivers died the same weekend on the DRY, then no one died for 20 years and he did so in wet conditions but because of negligence by the fia with the typical tractors on track; were it not for that wet conditions wouldn’t have caused that death and we would be now 28 years without deaths, despite there being races like spain 1996, monaco 1997, spa 1997, spa 1998, silverstone 1998, fuji 2007, silverstone 2008, interlagos 2016 etc. where they let them race in heavy rain.

    2. In 1969 three men propped in a tin can put on a rocket with 160.000.000 Hp went to the moon, landed and came back. What has happened to men since then?

      You are comparing oranges and apples there @pietkoster. In preparation for the moon landings, the NASA prepared for all the possible scenarios they could come up with. They could abort the mission at nearly every stage to get the astronauts back safely. Transpose that to F1, and you would criticize the FIA for being too cautious.
      Space flights and car racing have very little in common.

    3. Um that’s what they did last weekend. They delayed the race because it was too dangerous.

      Also statistically speaking, driving in F1 is more dangerous than going to the moon, so your point is moot.

  11. If they made a better wet tire, that would solve the problem with people having to get on the intermediate asap.

    You can’t solve a bad wet tire by removing the other option. It will still be a bad tire.

    1. What would be a “better” wet tire, in your opinion? What properties would you change, and in what direction? Keeping in mind that realistically some properties don’t go together, for example simultaneously clearing more water and lasting longer in the dry.

  12. Remove inters, because nobody uses wets…

    Great thinking there.. But I agree, slicks to wets would be a huge gamble then.

  13. The better the wets are, the more spray they’ll produce so maybe it’s time for water guards on the rear tyres?

    Also because the current F1 cars are like lumbering limousines, they’ll always be a handful. Get them back to an early 90s size and they’ll once again be much drivable and forgivable in the wet. Donington 93 is a prime example.

    1. The better the wets are, the more spray they’ll produce

      Does anyone know this for sure, with data to support it? I assume “better” wets in this case would mean ones with more groves to clear water? But any tire would roll over the same amount of water on track. It would be reasonable to think that a more grooved tire would bring that water with it and flick it up into the air behind. But a less grooved one would still spray that water to the sides and the aero of the car would flick it up into the air. All the way to a point where the lesser grooved tire starts to aquaplane and leave water untouched on the road. So to me it would be reasonable to think that the amount of water being cast into the air is more dependent on how much water there is on track rather than the tire being used. And that is what will ultimately set the limit for visibility.

      It would also be interesting to know how much of the spray behind the cars come from the tires, and how much is from the aero lifting water directly off the ground.

    2. I would be happy with detachable mud guards. Have to use them with wets, cannot use them with any other tyre. Wet weather racing but with less spray.

  14. Maybe we should keep just the inters, because neither the wets or slicks are good enough…

  15. To me the problem doesn’t just seem to be related to the tyres, but to the set up of the cars themselves.

    Back in the days where they had slicks, inters, wets & monsoon tyres, the monsoon tyres were barely used because even with them, the level of water was too much. We’re now in that same position with the inters / wets debate here.

    The main difference is that in the past, the cars were allowed to be given a *completely* different set up if it rained, even to the point of sometimes having a spare car (remember those?) set up for rain just in case to save time.

    In the current age of parc fermé conditions between qualifying and the race etc, we can no longer see such dramatic changes in the set up and I think that is a definite factor in what we see in modern wet races.

    The tyres can work to a point but I think it’s clear now, after years of discussion about this, that modern F1 cars can’t deal with as much water as they were able to in the past.

    So to me it seems we need to look not just to the tyres, but to what can be done with the cars as well to make them more capable.

    That would leave the main question being – are the cars fundamentally less able to run the rain, or is it something that can be aided by changing the set up?

    If it’s fundamental – then we’re going to have to get used to this until the general car regs change again, and take whatever small improvements could come from changing the tyres.

    Or if it could be changed via set up – then all that needs to be done is to introduce some form of “Wet Weather Declaration” allowing the teams to change the cars set up – similar to when they have been allowed to do repairs under a red flag etc.

    Something needs to change – because with the restrictive 3 hour rule now in place as well, we are beginning to run the risk of seeing even less running than Spa 2021 and if that happens enough times, we will eventually end up not running in wet weather at all.

  16. we are beginning to run the risk of seeing even less running than Spa 2021

    Not only that, with the current regulations there’s every chance that it would end up being for full points…

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