By Steve Slater
You might remember that last year F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone made a wry comment that all we need to do to get good racing is to artificially wet the race tracks. It was, I am still convinced Bernie having fun, seeing which journalists were daft enough to seriously report something so outrageous.
However after the last three races, I am starting to think that Bernie had a point. The British, German and Hungarian Grand Prix were all held in conditions that ranged from damp to torrential, and the three races gave us some of the best action of an already spectacular season.
There are three principal reasons why we see even better racing when we get rain-soaked, but it has to be said not flooded, tracks. The first is that the lower speeds and raised ride heights to cope with the conditions reduce a lot of the aerodynamic grip created by the cars. Cornering speeds are lower, there are often more different ‘lines' through a corner and the braking zones are longer, all creating added overtaking chances for those brave enough to try.
In addition, a wet track is rarely the same for two or three successive laps. If its getting drier, areas with more grip appear but as the cars go quicker, tyre wear becomes a feature too. It all adds to the number of variables in the race, which in turn give the drivers a chance to out think one another on strategy.
Finally, a wet track allows pure driving skill rather than engineering prowess to make the difference. The opening laps of last weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix offered a visual feast, as both Vettel and Hamilton battled at the head of the field, not merely for the lead positions, but simply to keep their cars on the track.
The sight of the Red Bull and McLaren, leaving rooster-tails of spray as they twitched and slid each time the drivers unleashed the horsepower was truly awesome. It is conditions such as those that one realises that Formula One drivers are not as you or I, their driving abilities are at an entirely different level.
We may be able to speculate on the theories of fast driving, but it takes some pretty special people to put it into practice, in a sliding car with 800 horsepower at 200 km/h. It is races like the Hungarian Grand Prix that show what makes a Formula One driver so special.
Lewis Hamilton provided the initial fireworks in Hungary by grabbing the lead from Vettel, but it was most definitely a ‘race of two halves' for the British driver. Poor radio communications probably contributed to the glitch in Hamilton's tyre strategy which lost him his lead, but simple driver errors saw Hamilton first spin then receive a drive through penalty, ruining any chance of fighting back.
Hamilton was quick to apologise after the race to Paul di Resta for forcing him onto the grass as he recovered from the spin. Hamilton simply hadn't seen the Force India car as he ‘doughnutted' the McLaren back into the right direction, right across the Force India's nose.
Meanwhile, as Jenson Button added to his ‘rain master' credentials in Hungary by scoring both McLaren's second back-to-back win and his second victory of the season, Force India rather than Ferrari, Red Bull or Petronas Mercedes, have been the team making the best mid-season progress.
Adrian Sutil's smooth drive to eight place in Germany was repeated by a similar result for di Resta in Hungary. The team have high hopes too, for further improvement on the low-downforce tracks coming up at Spa and Monza
The VJM04's aerodynamic package gives it strong straight-line speed, aided by a particularly effective DRS wing package and the power of the Mercedes engines. Sutil and di Resta might just be the drivers to watch when the teams return to the track after the mid-season break.