In the high-speed world of Formula 1, even the tiniest details can have a monumental impact on race outcomes. One such detail that has been a perennial challenge for the sport is the spray thrown up by cars in wet conditions. The FIA, ever the innovator, is gearing up for a more aggressive approach to tackle this issue, aiming to revolutionize the design of wheel covers following a less-than-ideal trial at Silverstone in July.
The initial test involved wheel fairings that, unfortunately, only managed to reduce the spray by a modest amount. It was evident that a more significant leap was needed to mitigate spray effectively and enable competitive racing in rainy conditions. Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s single-seater director, shed light on the post-Silverstone analysis and the ambitious plans that lie ahead.
“What was done at Silverstone, with the help of Mercedes and McLaren, was perhaps too optimistic an experiment,” Tombazis confessed candidly. “The spray guards covered too little of the wheel, and I was quite skeptical about seeing significant results.”
The next phase of testing will see a drastic departure from the previous design, with an emphasis on complete wheel coverage. Tombazis expressed his intention to go beyond what’s strictly necessary to pinpoint the threshold at which spray forms, paving the way for more informed decisions.
The complexity of the issue becomes apparent when considering the multifaceted origins of the excessive spray. Tombazis explained, “The first is from the water that is extracted from the tires and shot upwards. A second effect derives from the accumulation of water between the wheel and the asphalt in the tire squirt area, which is sucked into the diffuser. The third effect is given by the water that stagnates in the cracks in the ground and, under the pressure of the diffuser, is sucked up and expelled.”
Intriguingly, Tombazis disclosed that the spray from the wheels accounts for approximately 40% of the total spray. Reducing this phenomenon, while potentially compromising driver visibility to some extent, could yield significant improvements.
To tackle this issue, the FIA has delved into the arsenal of tools used by the road car industry to simulate wet weather conditions. However, Tombazis acknowledged the challenges of calibration and the restricted testing capabilities the FIA faces compared to car manufacturers.
One intriguing aspect to consider in the quest for a solution is aerodynamics. A more substantial wheel covering will undoubtedly have a greater impact on airflow than the initial test versions. While Tombazis acknowledged the potential for varying degrees of downforce deterioration, he emphasized that the focus is primarily on addressing the spray issue, even if it comes at the expense of some performance.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has also floated the idea of limiting the amount of water thrown up by the diffuser to reduce spray. However, Tombazis made it clear that the FIA prefers not to interfere with specific design aspects in the tire squirt area, as it would necessitate significant work from the teams.
In the grand scheme of things, the goal is to find a solution that can be easily applied and removed, ideally reserved for the rare deluge, and without altering the machines extensively. It’s a challenging endeavor, but one that underscores Formula 1’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation and enhancing the sport for fans worldwide. While these changes may not come overnight, the 2026 regulations may hold the key to a brighter, spray-free future in F1.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Formula 1 Wheel Covers
What was the purpose of the trial at Silverstone in July?
The trial at Silverstone aimed to test a new design for wheel fairings to reduce the spray thrown up by F1 cars in wet conditions. Unfortunately, the initial design did not yield the desired results, prompting the need for further development.
What is the significance of reducing spray in Formula 1?
Reducing spray is crucial in F1 as it enhances visibility for drivers in rainy conditions. Improved visibility leads to safer and more competitive racing, making it a top priority for the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
How will the next test design differ from the one at Silverstone?
The next test will feature a significantly different wheel covering design. The aim is to achieve complete coverage of the wheel, going beyond what’s strictly necessary to understand the threshold at which spray forms. This approach will inform future decisions on spray reduction.
What are the main sources of the excessive spray in wet conditions?
The excessive spray in wet conditions results from several factors. First, water extracted from the tires is shot upwards. Second, water accumulates between the wheel and the asphalt in the tire squirt area, which is then drawn into the diffuser. Finally, water in ground cracks is sucked up and expelled under the diffuser’s pressure.
How much of the total spray in wet conditions comes from the wheels?
Approximately 40% of the total spray in wet conditions is attributed to the wheels. Reducing this wheel-generated spray is a significant step towards improving visibility for drivers and overall race conditions.
What tools has the FIA explored in its quest to address this issue?
The FIA has explored tools used in the road car industry to simulate wet weather conditions. These tools, although promising, require precise calibration to correlate effectively with F1 conditions, which can be challenging due to limited testing opportunities.
What is the impact of the new wheel covering on aerodynamics?
A more substantial wheel covering will impact airflow and potentially affect aerodynamics. While the extent of aerodynamic impact may vary, the primary focus remains on reducing spray, even if it comes at the expense of some performance.
Is there a plan to limit water thrown up by the diffuser to reduce spray?
While the idea of limiting water thrown up by the diffuser has been considered, it would require significant work from the teams. The FIA prefers solutions that can be easily applied and removed for rare wet conditions.
When can we expect these changes to be implemented?
The changes to address spray in Formula 1 are a work in progress. The goal is to find a practical solution that can be applied sparingly, ideally for extreme wet conditions, without significant alterations to the race machines. Further developments may be seen in the 2026 regulations.