Formula 1 races on a drying track remain part of the sport, but the real rain race with full rain tires no longer seems to reach the safety threshold. Poor visibility is a problem that, according to Max Verstappen, cannot be helped.
“A sensible decision”, the World Cup leader judged about the five laps behind the safety car when the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps could start. A heavy shower just before the start caused a delay, and then a cautious start.
Although that depends on who is asked. Pierre Gasly, who finished third, did not think it was safe to start. “I saw nothing at all, less than twenty meters ahead. I just hoped no one would stop on the track.”
The shock is good for many drivers after the fatal accident with Dilano van ‘t Hoff at Spa-Francorchamps at the beginning of July. The Dutchman ended up on the track in a lower racing class under soaking wet conditions after a spin and was fatally hit by another car.
“It didn’t feel safe to me, I’m glad it all went well,” said Gasly on Saturday after the sprint race. “They should ask all drivers if it is safe to start.”
Verstappen understands the position of his former teammate. “It all depends on where you drive. The track conditions were good enough to race, but you just don’t see anything. Not when you’re in the midfield, but I didn’t always see the safety car myself. That’s why I understand that drivers go further saying it can’t be done.”
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Why quickly switch to intermediates?
It may feel contradictory to television viewers that half of the drivers immediately switched to intermediates after the start. Not safe, but too dry for rain tires?
Verstappen explained: “The problem is that those rain tires are just not good. The difference with the intermediates is much too big. You can really only use them if you go around the circuit with a boat, and then there is already a red flag The intermediate quickly becomes the faster tyre, but sometimes you can’t drive it yet because there are still too many puddles. It is that rain tires were now mandatory, otherwise I would have started on inters.”
Pierre Gasly did not think it was safe enough to race at the start. Photo: Getty Images
‘They used to see nothing’
Formula 1 is experimenting with wheel caps to reduce spray. Then it would also be possible to start earlier on a wetter track, but according to Verstappen it will not help. “Even the safety car had too much spray, and on the highway you also have that with normal cars, so wheel caps won’t do anything.”
And so the real rain race is increasingly under pressure. “Then accidents happen with a bad outcome and people start talking about it more. But if you look at it that way, you can no longer drive in the rain. Because there will always be problems with visibility. That would be a shame.” said Verstappen, who is used to driving with spray when the track is wet.
“You didn’t see anything in the past in Formula 3 either. That has always been the case. Just ask the old drivers. They didn’t see anything either. You just keep full throttle and assume that the rest will do the same.”
On Sunday, Verstappen will start the Belgian Grand Prix from sixth place, which will start at 3 p.m. The forecast for race day is a slight chance of showers.