The Greatest Wet Races in F1 – Part Two
Spa– 1963 – Jim Clark
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Jim Clark was a formidable driver and only drove for Lotus. Debuting officially in 1960 he was spotted as one of the smoothest drivers in the sport with an incredible style. He was involved in one of the worst accidents of that time at the Italian Grand Prix in 1961 when the Ferrari of Wolfgang Von Trips hit the back of the Lotus and launched the Ferrari into the crowd, killing 15 people including Von Trips. Although Clark admitted he was terrified of the potential dangers of the sport, he still drove like a man unhindered by fear.
This was no more evident than in the Belgian Grand Prix in 1963, at Spa. The weather conditions were wet and foggy and the race would certainly not have taken place today given the current rules and regulations. With extremely poor visibility and minimal grip on the circuit, Jim Clark passed the leader Graham Hill after starting 8th on the grid and went on to lap the entire field, bar one (Bruce McLaren) and claimed his first victory of the year for Lotus and it would eventually contribute to his first of two Championships. Wet weather racing is difficult and dangerous today but during Jim Clark’s era, mistakes were more likely to cost lives rather than just the cars and unfortunately many died because of poor weather conditions and circuits sorely lacking in safety. The sad ironic fact that Jim Clark died at the start of a small race meeting at Hockenheim in 1968 in dry conditions still resonates today.
Barcelona – 1996 – Michael Schumacher
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Often thought of as the main test circuit in Formula One, even today, it’s not usually known for its exciting races but in 1996 the Spanish Grand Prix was possibly the best race ever held at the Circuit De Catalunya. Pouring with rain, the field set off but Schumacher’s Ferrari didn’t get away well at all, with the majority of the field overtaking the Ferrari.
As we would come to realise with Michael Schumacher and his skills in the wet, he should never be discounted but noone knew that at that point and he took the field by storm. After dropping to the back of the grid, Schumacher fought his way past the leaders in appalling conditions which remained unchanged right to the end and he even lapped the entire field! His confidence and speed was awe-inspiring in a race where so many struggled for grip and couldn’t keep anywhere near the pace of the Ferrari. It was one of only 3 race wins for Schumacher in 1996 in what was at the time, a poor-performance car. It was just the beginning of his tenure at Ferrari but it set the tone of what was to come in the future. He had wrangled every last drop out of it and pulled off one of the most sensational wet-weather wins in F1 history.
Silverstone – 1998 – Michael Schumacher
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It’s no surprise that Michael Schumacher is featured twice on this list as he was at the centre of so many great moments in Formula One, many of them wet (many of them also controversial) and he was lovingly known around the world as the “rain-meister”. None of the wet races that Schumacher won however, had quite as controversial or indeed, as unique an ending as the British Grand Prix did in 1998. In the middle of what was becoming a two-horse race between Mclaren and Ferrari, Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher were the title contenders but the 1998 season still had plenty of surprises left up its sleeve (see Part 1).
The race started in the dry, although a heavy downpour in the earlier morning session had soaked the track and so the majority of the field started on Intermediate tyres to compensate for the mixed wet and dry conditions on the track. Hakkinen was leading after his teammate David Coulthard, who would have a terrible race littered with incidents, spun out whilst passing a backmarker, with the Finn enjoying a 49 second lead over Schumacher. The race saw numerous other spins further down the field and given the dangerous track conditions, the safety car was brought out, closing the gap between the two leaders. The controversy surrounding the race began when Schumacher passed Alexander Wurz before the finish line, after the safety car had come in, thus incurring a penalty. But this penalty was not given until two laps from the end of the race and the rules state it should have been given within 25 minutes of the offense but it was issued to the team 6 minutes later than the time limit. Therefore, were well within their rights to bring Schumacher on the third and final lap of his allowed 3 lap penalty window. This just happened to be the final lap of the race. When he arrived at his pit box, due to the nature of the track layout at Silverstone he had already technically crossed the finish line. He had won the race in the pitlane and still taken his penalty within the allotted timeframe.
The win was appealed by McLaren of course but essentially the win was upheld as it was decided it was the stewards’ mistake and not an error by the team and that actually they had followed procedure correctly. It was a controversial win and remains to this day the first time anyone has ever won a Grand Prix from the pit lane. The weather undoubtedly played a massive part in Schumacher’s fortune but whilst everyone was pirouetting in the wet, the Ferrari kept it pointing in the right direction in another incredibly impressive display under difficult conditions.Tags: F1 in the wet, Formula One, wet driving, wet racing