When it comes to Formula One, everyone seems to have an opinion. Nothing has generated more opinion in recent years than what should happen to avoid a repeat of 2021’s farcical Belgian GP outcome after torrential rain prevented any competitive running. One man whose opinion holds a lot of water (pun not intended) is FIA President Jean Todt and he has stated that the next generation of F1 cars must be designed to race in the rain. Such a design would surely ensure a repeat of Spa’s washout never comes to pass again.
The outcome of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, has already faced criticism throughout the sport. One of the more well-known comments came from the 1992 F1 Drivers’ Champion Nigel Mansell OBE. After the somewhat farcical scenes at Spa-Francorchamps, Good ol’ Nige said that Formula 1 could have gone racing in Spa's difficult conditions, with the help of a few set-up changes to the field's cars.
"We raced in Australia in a monsoon (1991), in Japan in a monsoon (1994), Estoril as well (1985), and I'll never forget racing in the terrible weather at Monte Carlo (1984) as well one time.
"But we were able then to adjust ride heights to the car, so you get more ground clearance, and you were able to put more wing on the car to give more downforce to give the drivers better control of their cars.” explained Mansell.
However, tight parc ferme conditions in today’s world of F1, means that such a move could not be permitted. Now, FIA President Jean Todt has gone on record to say that Formula 1's next generation of cars must be designed to race in the rain so as to avoid a repeat of the ‘race’ witnessed several weeks ago. A race which brought great disappointment to thousands of paying customers and a global tv audience.
The reason that the 2021 F1 cars could not race on tack at Spa in such conditions, is due to the high levels of downforce which they produce. This, coupled with wider tyres, ensures that the car running closely behind encounters a face full of spray and with it considerably reduced visibility.
Jean Todt fully supported the decision made by Michael Masi and the race stewards at race control on that miserable wet day in Belgium. He has no doubt that the danger was too great and the reward did not justify the risk. Nevertheless, he feels that adaptable cars in the future is vital for F1.
“There were many who criticised what was decided at Spa [by not racing], but what would have happened if, after the start, we had had an accident with 10 cars that resulted in injured drivers or worse,” Todt said, as quoted by Motorsport.com.
“We would have been massacred. And even without injuries we would have been criticised. For the 2025 regulations, we must think about having cars that can be driven even in the rain.”
There are some race fans who like to reminisce about the good ol’ days when competitors (not just men thanks to the feat of Maria Grazia 'Lella' Lombardi and Maria Teresa de Filippi), would take to their F1 machinery in adverse conditions.
Such a demonstration of bravery (or recklessness) can be referenced from the momentous 1976 Japanese Grand Prix which saw James Hunt go ‘flat-out and fearless’ to claim the 1976 F1 drivers’ championship. Meanwhile, on this day, the legendary Niki Lauda chose not to venture on in perilous conditions. For a younger audience, this scene is probably only remembered after the superb portrayal of it in the movie ‘Rush’. Todt also made reference to the events from Fuji in his recent remarks.
“Do you remember [Niki] Lauda at Fuji in ’76? He was the only one of the drivers to give up racing in the rain. Today, every driver thinks as Lauda did then.”
What must not be forgotten, is that the reason drivers now have to think as Lauda did is due to the cars they have to drive. Already we have seen some problems at Monaco, Mugello, Zandvoort and most recently Monza. All of this in typical driving conditions but when you have a car as long and as wide as an American pick-up truck, you must change your driving style. Throw into the mix a change of conditions and surely it is time for the style of the car to change - as much as the style of a driver.
Jean Todt clearly agrees and he is in a position whereby what he hopes to see happen will more than likely happen. So, it looks like more changes to the world of F1 as the sport continues to look to the future and endeavour to keep its title of ‘the pinnacle of motorsport’.