How to Drive in the Wet
A race car in the wet is a very different animal, Will gives us some tips
4 min read
Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. These drivers are not only known as greats of the sport but masters of wet weather driving. What separates a driver good in the wet from a great driver in the wet? Well today, I’ll explain the three key areas to develop to become a reinmeister.
Racing lines are one of the first things any driver learns in karts, simulators or racing school; minimizing the angle of corners. The fundamentals of a racing line are changed in the wet and the objective is to spend as little time as possible on the ‘normal’ racing line. The reason for this is because the circuit becomes polished by the tyres, the rubber laid down is very slippery in the wet and oil and other fluids cover the racing line.
By taking a line allowing you to avoid this low grip tarmac and drive on the higher grip tarmac (usually around the outside of the circuit) you have much more grip than other drivers on circuit. Max Verstappen showed us this in full effect at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2016 when he drove clean around the outside of Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes, showing in his first season of F1 that he was amongst the greats.
Smoothness is key to lapping quickly and consistently in the wet. Loading up the tyres and suspension in a gentle and predictable way means that the tyres can operate at the correct slip angle to the racetrack and the car shifts its weight smoothly from braking, to cornering and to maximum acceleration.
It can be mentally tough to think far ahead enough to gently but firmly apply the brakes, wind the steering lock on and off smoothly and apply the throttle as early but smoothly as possible but looking far ahead with your eyes can train this skill. Understanding and predicting the level of grip before you arrive into the corner is key here and this combines with my next tip.
Car control is a vital part of driving in the wet. Being confident enough to smoothly push to the limit but catch a slide when it occurs is key to getting the maximum out of the car at all times. Watch Ayrton Senna driving in the wet and it looks like he is scared of the steering wheel, using his fingertips to coax the car into corners but if it slides, he catches it with a blindingly fast flick of the wrists.
An extra point to combine all three previous points: practice. Ayrton Senna famously tells of how he first raced in the wet but was terrible, finishing plum last. I personally learned to drive quickly in the wet by accident really, because when I started karting, I couldn’t afford wet tyres!
Back in 2004 I used to drive around on test days all day on my slick tyres in the pouring rain very slowly with no grip, trying to find the places with the most grip on the circuit and the most effective way to use the controls. The second I got a set of wet tyres I was much faster than anyone else because I was amazed at how much grip there was, and I’d become good at driving to the maximum of a much lower grip level.
I've had a lot of success in the wet, for instance grabbing pole position at the TKM Festival against 85 drivers by over a second and impressing the Aston Martin team in their GT4 at Silverstone a few years back. Still, every corner of every lap I learn something new in the wet.