US GP: Rain adds unpredictability, more excitement to F1 races

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 -- Regenmeister. In the old days of racing in Europe, it was a special name given a driver who was a master of rainy racing conditions. It may be necessary to anoint a "Regenmeister" - a...

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 -- Regenmeister. In the old days of racing in Europe, it was a special name given a driver who was a master of rainy racing conditions. It may be necessary to anoint a "Regenmeister" - a German word that translates into "rain master" in English -- for the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix - at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway if forecasted rains fall this weekend. Who would that be? "There are two or three who are special in the wet," said Peter Grzelinski, Bridgestone Tire's service director for Formula One. And who might they be? "Both the Ferrari drivers (Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello) are pretty good in the wet," Grzelinski noted. "And (Heinz-Harold) Frentzen is quite quick in the rain. And (Jean) Alesi tends to show well in the wet as well. "It is very much a leveler as far as performance. If you had to pick the most likely to succeed on a wet track, you'd probably choose those four." 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve believes he should be on the list. "This year I've been quicker in the rain," said Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 champion who drives the Lucky Strike BAR Honda. "This may be the first time they see racing in the rain at Indy." This isn't exactly correct. In 1940, the final 50 laps of the Indianapolis 500 were run in the rain but under yellow so there was no passing. Wilbur Shaw led those laps (as well as 84 others) to win his second straight Indianapolis 500 and third of his career. The race also was run under the yellow during passing showers during the latter stages of the 1935 Indianapolis 500.

But in both of those races, there were no rain tires like those the Formula One teams will put on their cars if it begins to rain with any intensity. Bridgestone has plenty of wet tires for teams this weekend in case rain arrives. "We've got 14 sets of wet tires for each car, two different compounds," Grzelinski said. "We've brought nine sets of dry tires for each and two compounds, so that's another 18 sets of dry." The total number of tires brought to the Speedway is about 2,500, Grzelinski said. Rain has been a regular visitor at F1 races this season. There have been only two events where rain did not occur during the race weekend, Grzelinski said. "We've had a pretty poor year for weather as far as Formula One is concerned," he said. "This sort of possibility of rain has been hanging around virtually every race." The decision to pit when rain begins - or stops, for that matter - usually comes through conversation between the team engineer and the driver, Grzelinski said. Bridgestone does not call that shot. The teams are advised in the pre-race meeting at what point in the lap times would be best to make the tire switch. "But because we use a grooved dry tire, not completely slick, the overlap point is not where you normally expect it to be," he said. "Although it is quite a hard compound, we'll run on a damp track because it is not building up a film of water in the same way a pure slick would. So the breakaway point is more to do with the hardness of the compound than it is with the aquaplaning you get with a slick." Villeneuve jested that when a driver is not quick and doesn't qualify well, rain can help the backmarkers get a good finish and create unpredictable racing because of potential accidents by the front-runners. "If you're quick, then rain just makes it a little bit like a gamble," he said. Rain also brings "rooster tail" spray off the back of the race car. This is neat for fans to see but challenging for trailing drivers due to limited visibility. Bridgestone constructed a special tire for Indy, Grzelinski said. But the logistics of the worldwide schedule of Formula One prevented any testing. "They're more heat resistant because we're expecting the loading through the banking to put more weight on the car, on the tire for longer periods than they normally experience," he said. All Formula One tires, as well as high-speed open-wheel tires used, for instance, by the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, are built in Japan. The same group of engineers works on both. "Within that same department, there is that knowledge, and that's really where they've come up with the formula for the compounds," Grzelinski said. "I know the Japanese engineers would have liked to have tested, because basically they are cautious people." Grzelinski said the crews always prefer sunny skies for a race, because it eliminates a tremendous amount of work preparing the rain tires. But if there is a chance of rain, the work is done anyway, even if the tires become unnecessary. But Bridgestone isn't completely adverse to rain and the need to switch tires. "It's a chance to show our product," he said, "and it tends to give us more publicity, because of the focus on the tires. "So it's a good thing from the sales point of view, because the tire company gets more exposure. So we don't necessarily dislike it from the publicity point of view." And it also helps determine who is the true Regenmeister among the drivers - the master of the rain.

-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Jacques Villeneuve
Teams Ferrari