Bob McMurray: Rain a challenge to be met
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Exciting Brazilian GP was one out of the box and tested even the world's best to the max
Now and again along comes a Formula 1 Grand Prix completely different to all that have gone before.
The penultimate race of the 2016 season was a new one on me.
The Brazilian Grand Prix has been held regularly since 1990 on the Interlagos track, now named the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, in Sao Paulo. The track almost always throws up something different with either the weather or the race. This year weather was the major contributor to scenes of chaos, emotion, elation and some remarkable driving -- great and not so great.
I defy anybody to show me another race where all those elements, plus a few new ones, came together all at once.
Experienced drivers, some known as the best in the world, were caught out by rain and a wet track. One of those drivers even crashed before the race.
There were five safety car periods with two red-flag interventions, one soon after the other with no racing having taken place between, after the cars followed the Safety Car for eight laps.
A teenager in just his second year in Formula 1 drove from 15th place to third, overtaking with impunity in atrocious conditions. He displayed a skill that rival team boss Toto Wolff called "The Verstappen show! It was really unbelievable driving, great entertainment. Physics are being redefined".
Max Verstappen showed the world and his peers just how it should be done.
Of course, the immediate question is whether the race should have been started in the normal fashion, rather than interminable laps driving behind the Safety Car, much to the spectators' annoyance.
Earlier this year FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting expressed a preference for normal standing starts for a wet race instead of the Safety Car starts that have, frankly, blighted the sport over the past few years.
He considered the conditions in this case were just too bad for that.
If it was too dangerous to have a standing start, then surely it was too dangerous to race?
I believe the teams, cars and drivers have to manage and cope with the conditions as best they can -- rain, track surface, bad tyres or whatever.
Obviously, there must also be a line drawn as to what is simply dangerous and life-threatening, to the fans, teams and drivers alike and I respect that.
Jules Bianchi's accident last year at Suzuka is still raw in the minds of those involved but many of the conditions that led to his death are no longer there -- the "Virtual Safety Car" and the restricted use of recovery vehicles being the major ones.
It is not an easy job being a FIA race director and Whiting has done an excellent job over 20 years, coping with complaints from all sides while having to make decisions that are rarely popular with everyone.
While those drivers were tooling around behind the Safety Car for lap after lap, with the crowd whistling and booing, he was getting messages from some drivers saying "race now" and others saying "too dangerous".
There has to come a point where speed is the driver's decision.
The throttle pedal works both ways and it is not compulsory to drive flat out.
Many a driver has pulled out of a race due to the conditions -- Alain Prost, whose mantra was "to win the race at the slowest possible speed" in the rain at the 1989 Australian GP, for example, and perhaps more famously Niki Lauda giving up the possibility of winning the World Championship in Japan in 1976.
When the pre-race weather conditions are difficult or marginal for the drivers and teams, they are also a conundrum for the race director and his group in deciding how the race should begin. If the decision is to proceed, the fans deserve a show and normal race procedure should take place.
A standing start to begin and then let these "world's best" manage their own progress. If they are "the best", surely they can cope with whatever comes along?
It is historically plain to see that a wet race is generally a less predictable and more exciting one (ask Bernie Ecclestone about his now-forgotten plans for sprinklers here) and excitement is what Formula 1 desperately needs.
If confirmation was needed, look at the reaction from the Brazilian fans and the TV audience to young Max's exploits in overtaking 10 more experienced drivers, including his team-mate and one world champion, in his master-class of wet weather dexterity.
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