Does the sport need artificially-soaked circuits
Would the sport benefit from artificially soaking the circuits, or is this just another gimmick?

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has come out again with a rather radical suggestion of introducing artificial wet races in a bid to increase interest in the sport.

The 80-year-old mogul put forward his idea this week, suggesting that the unpredictability of artificially soaking a circuit would add more value than technical gimmicks like adjustable rear wings.

“There are race tracks that you can make artificially wet and it would be easy to have such systems at a number of tracks,” he said to the official Formula 1 website.

“Why not let it ‘rain’ in the middle of a race? For 20 minutes or the last ten laps? Maybe with a two-minute warning ahead of it. Suspense would be guaranteed and it would be the same for all.”

Such a suggestion will cause serious division among F1 fans and figures within the sport, but the proposal has the initial support of the series’ returning tyre manufacturer, Pirelli.

Describing Ecclestone’s idea as “quite interesting”, Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery (pictured) cited the successful wet-weather test conducted in late January on an artificially-soaked Yas Marina circuit.

Paul Hembery Abu Dhabi wet-weather test
Pirelli motorsport boss claims he floated the idea of artificially-soaked circuits after Pirelli’s ‘wet’ test at Abu Dhabi

“Straight after our recent successful [wet-weather] Abu Dhabi test I saw him and said, ‘why don’t we do an artificial wet race?’ The technology is such that you can wet a circuit with a sprinkler system, so the idea is not as daft as it sounds,” he told AUTOSPORT.

“Having seen what it was like in Abu Dhabi, certainly with a wet element it would look spectacular – and visibility shouldn’t be a problem because there would be no clouds.

“From a tyre makers’ point of view, there is no difficulty in making suitable tyres. We have seen great races in the past when you have had an extra variable like the weather, so why not.”

Perhaps the more important question is: ‘Why?’.

This suggestion opens a serious debate about the integrity of the sport itself, and whether such tinkering would, in fact,, compromise the purity of the sport.

Take wrestling as an example. Close to 30 years ago, wrestling was actually regarded as a genuine sport until a new owner came along in the 1980s and championed the concept of “sports entertainment”, effectively rendering it a circus. While his initiative generated an enormous income, increased viewership and plenty of spin-offs, its credibility as a sport was dead in the water. Anyone who considers that a genuine sport needs to have their mind read.

We seriously hope that such calls to artificially soak tracks are such a ruse between Ecclestone and Hembery to divert our attention away from more serious matters, including the Bahrain Grand Prix cancellation and the CVC bribery affair that Ecclestone is being dragged into.

If they are indeed being genuine, then this is a serious problem.

We have not been fans of KERS or adjustable rear wings, with the former being little more than a ploy to have car manufacturers being perceived as more ‘green’, and the latter being a band-aid solution for a bigger problem overall. Compulsory pit stops and the forced use of two dry-weather tyre compounds are but two more examples of measures that have been imposed to shuffle the running order.

A section of Hembery’s interview also likened night racing and street circuit racing as being gimmicky, and these are both gross misjudgements on Hembery’s part. Motor racing has historically occurred on street circuits in as great an abundance as road circuits or ovals.

Turning on some sprinklers? Why not stop there? Let’s add other elements: oil slicks? There’s plenty spare in the Gulf of Mexico the last time I looked?

Why not have a ‘smite’ button in every car that FIA Race Director Charle Whiting can randomly engage to blow a competing car to smithereens? Or should we just make it an all-out demolition derby where the drivers have to kill each other using nothing more than their crash helmets?

Rain-affected races should only occur naturally. Timing races – such as the 2000 British Grand Prix (in the wet month of April) or the 2009 Malaysian GP – to coincide with higher likelihoods of rain is disingenuous to fans, to say the least.

How about listening to drivers, technical figures and fans as to why racing is so utterly dull at some circuits? Why not look at means of trimming downforce and increasing the braking distances?

'Follow my leader' has become the mainstay of a 'Tilkedrome'

We’ve covered a lengthy opinion piece on the failings of circuit designer Hermann Tilke before, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that he has absolutely no idea how to design a circuit that is conducive to overtaking. All are carbon copies of each other, and now he’s having to resort to copying corners from other famous circuits hoping that this could fix things.

And the end of the day, motor racing should be about the fastest cars and drivers showcasing motorsport technology and innovation. Fundamentally, the fastest cars should always wind up at the front, and some of the best races in the sport’s history have actually been those where there was little in the way of overtaking.

The real worry is that this kind of thinking – or dedicated non-thinking, in our opinion – is allowed to succeed, then you’re effectively witnessing the death of all credibility the sport still has.

In an open plea to the rulemakers: Leave the sport alone. Quit tinkering with the rules. Follow the formula that made Formula One the most compelling sport that captured the attention of many: Combine the best driving talent, the most money, and the best engineering talent. Stir, serve, and enjoy.

[Original images via AUTOSPORT and Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.