After testing the first prototype of spray guards in July at Silverstone with Mercedes and McLaren, but with unsuccessful results, the FIA now intends to test new splash guards covering the entire wheel. In this way, the water barrier raised by the tires in extreme wet conditions should be drastically reduced, improving visibility and ensuring safer Grand Prix races.
First Tests on Ineffective Spray Guards: FIA Studies a New Extreme Solution
“Spray forms on a wet track due to the effect of various causes,” said Nikolas Tombazis, FIA single-seater director, speaking with motorsport.it. “The first is caused by water extracted from the tires and shot upwards. A second effect comes from the accumulation of water between the wheel and the asphalt in the area of tire squirt, which is sucked into the diffuser.”
“The third effect is caused by water pooling in the ground’s crevices and, under the diffuser’s pressure, is sucked into the extractor and expelled. We have conducted simulations. There are tools commonly used in the automotive industry, but they must be calibrated well to have a good correlation.”
The issue of excessive water thrown up by the substantially large cars and tires introduced in the last regulatory cycle continues to be a hot topic. The 18-inch tires, in fact, represent a significant disadvantage in extreme wet conditions, to the point of making Grand Prix races almost impractical.
The most recent example we had was at Spa, where the federation waited a long time before giving the green light for the race, lining up the drivers on the grid with full wet tires but in practically intermediate conditions.
Reducing the spray derived from the wheels to significantly improve visibility
“We believe that approximately 40% of the spray comes from the wheels,” Nikolas Tombazis continued. “If we could limit this phenomenon, it’s clear that the drivers wouldn’t have full visibility, but we could achieve a significant improvement. Total safety may not be attainable because we don’t have a precise perception of the relative importance of these phenomena.”
The federation wanted to test the first real prototype of splash guards on the track at Silverstone with the collaboration of Mercedes and McLaren. The Brackley car was equipped with the spray guards, while the Woking car took to the track normally. The difference in water thrown up was minimal, as expected by Nikolas Tombazis himself.
“What was done at Silverstone with the help of Mercedes, which produced the parts, and McLaren was perhaps too optimistic. Those spray guards covered too little of the wheel. I was quite skeptical. I imagined that we wouldn’t see significant results.”
“In the upcoming tests, we will try the complete wheel coverage, going even further than what is necessary to understand the threshold at which spray forms. Then we will decide which path to take.”
Additionally, the technician from Athens stated that the ideal scenario envisioned by the federation would be to install removable splash guards without modifying the cars: “It would require significant work by the teams.”
“Ideally, we would like to intervene with a solution that is put on and taken off only when there is extreme wet weather, perhaps once or twice a year. Therefore, we prefer not to have to modify the cars. Other ideas can potentially be developed for the 2026 regulations.”
Would fully covered wheels have an impact on aerodynamics?
“The deterioration can vary quite a bit. In some configurations we tried, it was almost negligible, while in more extreme solutions, we saw a loss of up to 80 points in the wind tunnel, which can be worth two or three seconds per lap.”
“Honestly, the performance threshold doesn’t concern us very much, but the teams certainly care. In the Silverstone test, we tried a solution with the least possible aerodynamic impact.”
Although Tombazis’ goal is to equip the cars with removable guards, he ultimately rules out the possibility of removing these devices during pit stops if the track dries.
“Perfection doesn’t exist, but we will have to understand how to manage this situation. Either we continue the race and end up with the spray guards, or if there is a red flag, it may be possible to remove the spray-reducing devices. But they certainly cannot be removed during pit stops.”
At present, it is not yet known when and how the FIA will return to the track with the proposed new solution. In the meantime, another goal to achieve will undoubtedly be improving the performance of the full wet tires, which have appeared significantly deficient compared to intermediates.