Drivers trust FIA on visibility but Verstappen admits ‘it’ll be bad or we can’t race’

2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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F1 drivers say they have faith in the FIA and race director Niels Wittich to determine whether conditions are too dangerous to race at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.

Wet weather is expected throughout the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. There are heightened concerns over the dangers posed to drivers in wet conditions following an accident earlier this month that took the life of Formula Regional racer Dilano van ‘t Hoff.

The 18-year-old driver lost control of his car at the Kemmel kink after a late Safety Car restart, where he was struck by an unsighted rival due to the volume of spray kicked up from the track by the field of over 20 cars. In 2021, the Belgian Grand Prix was abandoned after only three laps behind the Safety Car due to safety concerns as a result of heavy rain.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s running – which will include a sprint race on Saturday afternoon ahead of the grand prix on Sunday – Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc stressed how critical visibility levels are in wet conditions.

Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
Report: F1 drivers largely oppose calls for changes to Spa circuit after “unlucky” fatal crash
“It’s really difficult to put into words what we are seeing, apart from saying that we are seeing nothing,” Leclerc said. “But we are not exaggerating when we say we don’t see anything. We really don’t see anything when it’s raining.

“This is a really big problem for Formula 1, for motorsport in general. Any single seaters now, we have quite a bit of downforce, there’s quite a lot of spray and then this causes quite a lot of incidents just because we cannot react to what there is in front. Easy to say that, much more difficult to find a solution for that. But I know that the FIA is on it and is obviously trying to do the best on that.”

Asked by RaceFans if he expected to see much racing if conditions turn out to be as wet as forecast, Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr said he would lobby to race as long as it was viable.

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“If I can see in the car, then of course I will recommend the race director and make sure we try and run,” Sainz said.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
“I think we’ve learned our lesson recently” – Sainz
“At the same time, if you cannot see, it’s leaving everything down to luck and fate and I think we’ve learned our lesson recently and I think we need to not fall too much into into the pressure of having to run just because we need to put on a show and just because it’s the right thing for the sport if the conditions are not safe enough.

“I will go out there whatever the conditions are. But obviously as drivers we always need to give our guidance to the FIA if we can actually see in case of an accident or anything in front of us, how many metres ahead we can see.

“Like all 20 drivers we are asked for our opinion and I will give my opinion all the time. My number one priority will always be safety, but also as soon as everything is ready, I would be the first one screaming to run at this beautiful track because I love driving it in the dry but I also love driving it in the wet.

“I actually think it’s more fun to drive in the wet than in the dry, especially those corners there.”

Alpine driver Pierre Gasly – who is holding a running event at the circuit in tribute to Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in a dry F2 race after a crash at Raidillon – says the FIA need to listen to drivers when determining if it’s safe to race.

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“I think they’ve got to rely on the feel of the driver and I think in these conditions they made the right decision some years ago when unfortunately there wasn’t a race start, Gasly explained.

“It’s not because we don’t want to race, it’s just because there could be a tragic incident, like that occurred some weeks ago, and no one wants that. So I think they’ve got to rely on us.

“Obviously, they know from past experience, not only in Spa, but just in rainy conditions, that visibility is the most dangerous parameter. I think they know where the line is and I think all those drivers will guide them in making the right choices”

World champion Max Verstappen believes that the concerns over visibility in wet conditions are not exclusive to the Spa circuit.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s really track-related,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “You have dangerous corners, yes, and in the wet, there is always more risk. But I think everyone is competent enough to make the right calls. If you can drive, you can drive. And if it’s too wet, it’s too wet.”

F1’s decision to widen its wheels in 2017 may be contributing to the visibility problems in the wet, Verstappen suggested. Front wheel widths grew from 245mm to 305mm, while rears increased from 325mm to 405mm six years ago.

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“I think also that we went to the bigger tyres, that makes it worse because there’s more [water] displacement,” said the world champion. “Just the shape of the car, it’s so big, you have more spray.

“It was worse than it was in 2016, but in 2016 it was also bad. I remember the race in Brazil where I was in the back after the pit stop, I didn’t even see Fernando [Alonso] spinning off the track, the whole straight I kept it flat but I didn’t see anything. But of course, by knowing where you’re going from all the other laps, you just keep it pinned.

“But if there would have been someone standing, you would have just completely driven through it. So it’s bad, but it has been bad for a very long time, so I don’t think there is a lot at the moment that we can do about it.”

Verstappen is confident the race director will take the drivers’ views into account, but pointed out they will have to accept some loss of visibility when it rains.

“I think that we have spent quite a bit of time in briefings and I think also from his side now he’s done quite a few races now. I think you also listen to the Safety Car a bit, you think you will know if it’s safe or not.

“But the visibility is going to be bad anyway, otherwise we cannot have any rain races anymore.”

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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26 comments on “Drivers trust FIA on visibility but Verstappen admits ‘it’ll be bad or we can’t race’”

  1. I guess we can hope that they manage to have the sprint race and then feel less pressure to somehow get some racing done even though the conditions do not allow for it on sunday?

    Really not keen to see another accident, nor to see a repeat of the farce of doing some lame attempts to cruise around for a few laps behind the SC to formally fulfil the “a race happened” metric like we had in 2021

    1. @bascb Same, although Sunday looks decent presently, with only a low-ish rain probability, but as always with Spa-Francorchamps, weather forecasts can change quickly.

  2. Obviously, no one wants to see an accident where someone gets hurt – but we do want to see the thrills and spills associated with racing in the wet when necessary and when it is as safe as it needs to be.

    F1 needs it, the drivers need it and the fans want it. I haven’t seen any feedback on the testing done recently, as yet, but I hope a solution can be found because wet whether racing provides some of the best racing because it nullifies an awful lot of the car advantages.

    1. They said the wet weather guards are reducing the spray but not sufficiently yet, so there’s more work to be done.

    2. F1 and many, many other series have managed to race in the wet forever, but suddenly it’s too dangerous and too hard. Guess it’s just par for the course right now with everything else going on in F1. It’s ironic that the safer they make the cars, tracks, personal safety gear, etc., they continue to reduce the situations in which they’re willing to allow racing. This, despite the fact, that we’ve had all of one fatality in the last 30 years.

  3. Yellow Baron
    27th July 2023, 18:58

    So long as it’s not heavy rain then start the race from the pitlane. Once they reach the end of the py lane they can go full speed. This will create a little space.

    Even a standing start from the pitlane, or let the pole sitter start the race as they do after a safety car but from the kemmel straight. As long as he goes before the right hander at the end of the straight.

    Seems pretty common sense to me, might take some tweaks and a few things put in place. Sure the cars will start the race a bit further spread out but at least it’ll be some thing rather than nothing. And as long as it isn’t heavy rain they’ll clear the water.. oh and don’t wait till it’s inter weather, they have wets for a reason..

    Honestly a kemmel straight rolling start would work really well

    1. A decent idea for scenarios where rain is too heavy for a normal standing race start, albeit your suggested one-by-one format wouldn’t necessarily have to start from the pit lane, but S/F straight as usual.

      1. Yellow Baron
        27th July 2023, 20:01

        Yeah my thinking with the pitlane start is that there would be a short delay between each driver getting on the throttle as they they leave the speed limiter. Coupled with them being spaced out by a few metres it would spread them out
        P1 would probably be at eau rouge as p20 leave the pit lane.
        But I’d prefer a kemmel straight rolling start

        1. What a fantastic idea! They could even use the traffic light at the end of the pitlane to let them go 1 by 1 in a controlled and fair fashion.

    2. It was under my assumption that for wets to be effective you need heavy rain, because if the rain is light inters are better; is there an intermediate rain level where full wets are better than intermediates and not heavy rain to race?

      1. Yellow Baron
        28th July 2023, 2:22

        I suppose there could be a scenario of no rain falling but still full wets required due to the amount of rain already set on track

        1. I think in that case, the teams would probably still go for intermediates on the basis that the cars would clear so much standing water that it would be intermediate conditions within a few laps, even if it was very wet at the start.

          1. Yellow Baron
            28th July 2023, 9:41

            Perhaps.. These full wets don’t seem to get much use!
            Mind inters won’t work very well if there’s standing water.

    3. not too heavy rain*

    4. Yellow Baron
      28th July 2023, 9:46

      I would add that, should they begin racing in wet conditions with obvious visibility issues at the top of the hill, it should be an automatic vsc if a car spins or crashes between eau rouge and the kemmel kink. Bare minimum. Double waved yellows just aren’t good enough for that section in the rain.

    5. Since Whiting, (and even he missed a lot of opps), the FIA have never used the common sense tactic of allowing the cars to run behind the SC to clear heavily wet tracks. I get not trying if it’s still absolutely torrential. Otherwise though, they should be clearing water, especially if the forecast only shows a lightening rain patch and not a full stop to the rain.

      1. Yellow Baron
        28th July 2023, 17:50

        Completely agree. Also in that scenario, I don’t think it would be hard to clear some water via a vsc. Have the drivers spaced out at 5 second intervals and run under vsc for a dozen laps at a pace faster than what a safety car would run. Then call a safety car and send them off with a green flag. Especially if the race time limit or darkness are approaching.

  4. Why not use local VSC in the Mini-sectors from before Eau Rouge til mid of kemmel in wet conditions with reduced visibility. Thats where all those dangerous crashes happened and the rest of the track is not more dangerous than many other tracks.

    1. +1 That might be an excellent idea indeed. Water will still be displaced, more so than during a safety car – let alone no cars on track and the drivers and FIA will have a better idea when racing can continue.

    2. True, good idea, could allow racing even in heavy rain.

  5. isthatglock21
    27th July 2023, 22:35

    Yeah we’re not gonna race this weekend sadly. FIA got blasted for not racing 2 years ago but some agreed, now pretty much everyone especially after the recent young lad passed only 1 month ago the FIA is gonna be even more cautious than before. Only bolsters the case for Spa to be replaced with South Africa.

    1. +1 the rain is fully set in and knowing Spa and the FIA we won’t be racing this weekend. Sad because it’s such an epic circuit, but ultimately safety must come first.

    2. I sure hope they go ahead with it, would be sad to lose a potentially interesting wet race.

  6. Verstappen has reportedly taken a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, which is perhaps as good a signal as any that Red Bull expect the race not to go ahead.

    But really I think the concerns about wet running are overblown, and have been for a number of years. Firstly, the tracks should be designed so that cars don’t bounce back on if they go off (as happened to Hubert, in the dry – Spa has already made changes to prevent a repeat). Secondly, if there are stricken cars on the track, the drivers should respond to flag signals (which are also reflected in cockpit warning lights) in an appropriate fashion. There is also a responsibility on race control to use VSC/SC/red flags in a timely manner – too often we’ve seen delays in neutralising races which could be dangerous in a situation with low visibility.

    Finally, if there are changes to be made to the cars, then better rain lights would be a good idea, so that drivers can see who they’re following even if there is a good deal of spray. But we need urgently to get away from this perception that F1 is a dry-weather sport only, or that full wet tyres aren’t to be used in race conditions.

  7. Pjotr (@pietkoster)
    28th July 2023, 9:18

    49 fatal incidents on Spa since 1925 (motorcycles, 15), two of them in F1 in 1960. We don’t need more.

  8. If it’s too wet to race because of spray, run the event as a time trial instead.

Comments are closed.