FIA developing ‘prototypes’ in unprecedented solution for heavy rain

The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was stopped after a couple of laps, due to the intensity of the rain and the conditions of the circuit.

FIA single-seater technical director Nikolas Tombazis has confirmed that wheel arches are being considered going forward when heavy rain appears, in order for the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix to never be repeated.

For a sport deemed to be the pinnacle of motorsport, the championship has looked embarrassing in recent years when met with a wet race.

At the Japanese Grand Prix towards the end of the most recent season, a lengthy red flag interval was required whilst heavy rain pounded the Suzuka International Circuit.

The Monaco Grand Prix was also red flagged for a considerable amount of time, again as a result of rain.

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Thankfully, neither were as bad as the embarrassing 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, which was stopped for virtually two hours.

On that day, the only racing that took place was two laps behind the Safety Car, before it was stopped.

The sport was left with “scars” on that day, with methods being discussed to ensure that racing can take place in difficult conditions.

With that in mind, the FIA are looking into introducing wheel arches, potentially as soon as the second half of 2023, with Tombazis keen to “avoid” a repeat of Spa.

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“Spa in 2021 still left scars on the sport because it was very unfortunate circumstance,” Tombazis acknowledged.

“It would have been ten times worse, I think, if we’d gone all the way to Japan and had to pack up and come back.

“We really need to avoid that. We have so many people watching, spectators paying tickets, teams travelling all over the world – that to then suddenly say we can’t race is not very responsible of us.”

The main issue with the wet weather over the last few seasons hasn’t actually been the rain itself, with the spray flicked up in the drivers faces being the biggest issue.

Wheel arches will catch the majority of the spray and simply dispense it back onto the circuit; however, they won’t be used at every moment when rain begins to fall.

“We only think it’s going to be something that gets used on a couple of occasions a year,” explained Tombazis.

“Maybe three, that sort of thing.

“I think it will bring the raceable conditions from what is maybe currently intermediate tyres, as you almost never race with the wet tyres.

“I think it’ll bring it well into the wet tyre territory. We don’t want it to be that every time there’s a drop of rain, then suddenly you have to fit these things.

“Also, we would not be asking for them to be fitted or removed in a rush. Their fitting or removal would either be before a race or during a red flag. If a race starts very wet and gets dry, they would stay on.

“I’m expecting that it’s going to be a maybe 50 per cent improvement kind of thing,” he said.

The work in regard to the wheel arches has so far been completely computer-based, with future real-life tests likely to be needed to ensure the feature works.

Part of the computerised simulations being done is to see how the spray is affected by the wheel arches, something that is difficult to “determine”, according to Tombazis.

“We have done a lot of CFD [computer fluid dynamics] simulations, because we want to make sure the effect of these devices is relatively small on the overall aerodynamics,” Tombazis said.

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“There still is an effect, but not a massive one. Also, we are simulating the droplets of the rain and so on, and seeing how it affects spray.

“What is a bit of a challenge in the simulations is to determine the relative proportion of what comes from the diffuser to what comes from the tyres.

“Once we have a solution, we’ll get to do some prototypes and run them on some cars to try and evaluate that properly.”