Formula 1’s intention to create standard-specification wheel arches to be fitted to cars for wet conditions is driven by a desire to prevent a repeat of the farce of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix which the FIA says “left scars on the sport”.
The FIA hopes the wheel arches, which will reduce splashing and improve visibility, will be ready for application in the second half of the 2023 season. This comes after the F1 Commission announced last week that a production study of such a design was under way.
The initiative is prompted by fears that F1 will face another situation like the one in last year’s Spa where no real race took place, with the official result announced based on one lap under the safety car.
This, combined with driver feedback that splashing has been made worse by 2022 ground impact regulations, makes finalizing the proper design a high priority.
Nicholas Tombazis, FIA F1’s technical chief, is confident the wheel arches will be ready for 2024. But he hopes they will be ready for the second half of 2023, provided the design is finalized and teams agree it can happen.
This means that the wheel arches will be available for extreme rain events such as the Belgian, Japanese and Brazilian Grands Prix next season.
“I am very confident about 2024,” he said when asked by The Race about the intended timeline for their submission.
“We’re trying to see if we’re going to be successful in getting a package ready for the second half of the season next year, as sometimes you have more potentially wet races.
But this is challenging from many points of view.
“We haven’t put an end to that yet [timing]. But “24 I’d say I’m pretty sure he’ll be there.”
The hope is that reducing drizzle, which greatly limits driver visibility, will make it possible to race in the worst conditions when the cars are on wet Pirellis compound.
In recent years, green flag racing in wet conditions has generally only used intermediate tyres, and the wet tire is usually either completely dispensed with at speed or only used when the race is under the safety car. It is not for nothing that some jokingly call a fully wet car the “safety car tire”.
This would prevent a repeat of the spa situation where it was impossible to race thanks to a combination of poor grip levels and lack of visibility, especially when combined with Pirelli’s work on improving its medium and wet tyres.
“We just think it’s going to be something that we hope will be used a couple of occasions a year, maybe three times,” Tombazis said of the wheel arches. “We don’t want it to be every time a drop of rain falls.
But we are very worried that we will end up [not being able to race]. Spa 2021 continues to leave scars on the sport as it was a very unfortunate circumstance. It would have been 10 times worse if we went to Japan and had to pack up and go back.
“So we really need to avoid that. We have so many people watching, spectators buying tickets, teams traveling all over the world and then all of a sudden just saying we can’t race is really irresponsible, almost.
“It will only bring in racially susceptible conditions from what currently exists essentially [only using] intermediate frames. At the moment you almost never race on wet tyres, so I think it will make it very well into the wet tyre territory.”
Wheel cover illustrations by Rosario Juliana
Tombazis believes it would be possible to achieve a 50% improvement in the spray in terms of its effect on vision.
While the analysis is still in progress, simulation work was performed to understand the effect on spray from various wheel arch concepts.
Once a suitable design has been produced, the aim is to conduct track testing on Formula 1 cars to assess their suitability.
“We’ve been running a lot of CFD simulations because we want to make sure that these devices have a relatively small impact on the overall dynamics,” Tombazis said. “There is still an impact but not a huge one.
And we simulate raindrops and so we try to see how it affects the drizzle.
“What is a little challenging is determining the relative ratio of what comes from the diffuser to what comes from the tire. Once we have a solution we will do some prototypes and run them on some cars to try and validate that correctly.
“I would expect that, under equal conditions, it would be some kind of 50% improvement.”
Tombazis also stressed that there was no desire for the wheel arches to be designed “to be hastily removed or installed”, meaning they would only be placed on the cars before sessions, races or during red flag periods.
He also confirmed that if the race started wet and then dried up, the wheel arches would remain on the cars until the end of the Grand Prix.
Pirelli is also optimizing its wet and medium tires for better racing in wet conditions, and is taking an interest in the splash reduction initiative.
Motorsport boss Mario Isola said Pirelli is “in the loop” on the wheel arch plans thanks to its participation in technical and sporting advisory committees. But he warned that changes would have to be made to their tires if the intention was to run in extreme wet conditions – and noted that the diffuser was responsible for the majority of the spray rather than the tyres.
“I think most of the spray comes from the diffuser, so they’re also investigating that, not just the tyres,” Isola said when asked by The Race about the plan.
“The other point is that if we are doing this to allow the cars to run in full wet, we need to know that in advance because we need to design the tire to the limit.
“At the moment they don’t run in wet conditions entirely because of visibility, so to be honest having a seasonal tire isn’t that helpful because they’ll never use it.
“If the idea is to have a device that avoids spray in the air and the visibility is much better so that it works in full wet conditions, we need that information to design the tire to handle those conditions because the medium tire is not a tire for heavy rain conditions, the aquaplaning resistance of the medium It’s not designed for that.”