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Top 10 wet weather drives in Formula 1

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Top 10 wet weather drives in Formula 1
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Apr 14, 2020, 12:56 PM

One of the (many) measures of great drivers is their prowess in poor weather, when the human agent is able to make up for deficiencies in their machinery. But which are the very best? We've come up with our top 10 performances - limited to one per driver - to settle the age-old debate.

With no shortage of rain-affected world championship grands prix to choose from, selecting the races for this list was no easy task and involved extensive research, as well as speaking to some of the people involved. We also decided to use social media to find out what you think and the results make for interesting - and rather different - reading.

The only rule for our main list was that each driver could only appear once. That meant choosing between the 1985 Portuguese GP and Ayrton Senna's most famous win on UK soil, the 1993 European GP at Donington Park. Predictably, the latter topped our 2017 reader poll.

In our view, the earlier success was achieved in a more difficult car. Senna's main opposition at Donington, chiefly the tricky (in those conditions) Williams FW15Cs of rookie Damon Hill and Alain Prost (who made seven pitstops), was also weaker than that Senna faced eight years before. But there is no doubting Donington was one of the great F1 drives of all time and is one of the most well-known wins in the wet.

Second on the reader poll was Jenson Button's 2011 Canadian GP win. If it had been a list of the most dramatic wet-weather races, this would have been on it, but Button required a little bit too much luck - surviving two clashes and benefiting from a safety car period - to make out list. Indeed, his 2010 Chinese GP success, after a duel with McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton, was probably more impressive.

Perhaps the most surprising entry is that of Max Verstappen's 2016 Brazilian GP drive - which ranked fourth, behind Michael Schumacher's first Ferrari win in the 1996 Spanish GP - partly due to it being recent and to the Dutchman's popularity.

While the drive was clearly a signal of intent, even the man himself wasn't convinced Hamilton was beatable on the day, and Verstappen was slightly flattered by his fresher rubber in the closing stages. We expect a stronger entry from him in the years to come.

There were many other impressive candidates suggested and the only race in our main list not mentioned at all was the 1962 German GP. Thanks to all those who took part and, finally, hats off to the individual who suggested the 1926 German GP, a race won by perhaps motorsport's first rainmaster, Rudolf Caracciola. If we were selecting one of the great German's wet-weather masterpiece, it would probably be the 1936 Monaco GP.

10. Damon Hill, 1994 Japanese GP Williams FW16

Started: 2nd

Result: 1st

Damon Hill, Williams FW16 celebrates his victory

Damon Hill, Williams FW16 celebrates his victory

Photo by: Sutton Images

Despite not being considered one of the greats by many, Damon Hill had a fine record in the wet. The often-forgotten 1996 Brazilian GP, in which he lapped Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, is one example, but the race at Suzuka in 1994 is the event the man himself picks out as his greatest drive.

"It was the most intense race of my life," recalls Hill.

Not only were the conditions around one of the world's great circuits challenging, Hill also went up against Schumacher as their title fight approached its climax. The Williams driver arrived in Japan five points behind and needed to beat Schumacher to have a realistic chance of the crown in the Australian finale.

"It was questionable if the race should have been allowed to start," wrote Autosport Editor Bruce Jones. "And even more questionable if it should have been allowed to continue after cars started to skate off left, right and centre."

Schumacher beat Hill to pole and held the lead at the start. After just two laps they were nine seconds clear of third-placed Johnny Herbert. As the rain intensified, cars started sliding off, including Herbert's Benetton.

A safety car slowed the field for a few laps before Schumacher led the field once more, and this time he started to pull away from Hill. Then Martin Brundle's McLaren went off and hit a marshal. Finally the race was red-flagged, with Schumacher holding a 6.9-second advantage to take into the second part of the aggregated event.

At the rolling restart, Hill stayed with Schumacher and took the lead when the Benetton pulled in for the first of two pitstops. At half-distance Hill made his only stop and took on three new tyres, as his right-rear refused to come off. The Williams returned in the lead and initially extended it.

But by lap 36 (of 50), Schumacher was back in the lead on aggregate, though Hill still led on the road. The race looked settled, but then Schumacher came in for a second stop - Benetton's strategy for once making his life more difficult and he had to charge again.

Down came the gap, but it didn't come down fast enough. Despite his much older rubber (particularly on the right-rear), Hill dug deep. With one lap to go he still led by 2.5s on aggregate and he extended it on the final tour to score the ninth win of his career, and his best.

"What had to be done in the name of keeping the title alive demanded more commitment from that race than any other I'd driven," says Hill. "Suzuka is one of the toughest circuits any driver goes to. The challenge is enormous. The satisfaction people get from driving it is huge."

9. Keke Rosberg, 1983 Monaco GP Williams FW08C

Started: 5th

Result: 1st

Keke Rosberg, Williams leads Patrick Tambay, Ferrari

Keke Rosberg, Williams leads Patrick Tambay, Ferrari

Photo by: Williams F1

By 1983, the turbo tide had all but overwhelmed the normally aspirated Cosworth DFV. Keke Rosberg had triumphed in a dramatic and bizarre '82 campaign, but turbo power was more and more what was required.

Street circuits offered the DFV runners, like Rosberg's Williams team, hope but Monaco qualifying didn't look promising. Despite driving at his flamboyant best in practice, Rosberg could only qualify fifth, 1.5s behind Alain Prost's polesitting Renault. That was, however, three places and 1.4s faster than the next DFV, teammate Jacques Laffite.

Morning rain left the track wet but drying for the race, leaving a classic slicks-or-wets conundrum. Most of the turbo runners, perhaps predictably, chose wets. Williams went for slicks, but would Rosberg be able to stay with the leaders in the early laps?

The Finn answered the question by rocketing off the line and into second by Ste Devote. Rosberg then passed Prost on lap two, coming through 1.7s ahead, with the Renault another 9.2s clear of the rest!

As others peeled into the pits to change to slicks, Rosberg continued to drive away, and Laffite rose to second. Just over 30s separated the two Williams at one-third distance, with the next-best almost three-quarters of a minute behind.

"Such was his aggression and control that, on a very damp track, he left the turbos behind. And they were on wets," said Autosport's Nigel Roebuck. "This was a world champion showing his worth."

Then Rosberg started suffering with an engine that was cutting out and Laffite now seemed a threat. But the Frenchman was still nearly 20s adrift when gearbox trouble forced him out after 53 of the 76 laps.

That left the #1 Williams over a minute ahead of Nelson Piquet's Brabham and Prost, but Rosberg was struggling.

"He had been weakened by a virus infection, and his hands were appallingly blistered by kickback through the steering wheel," said Roebuck. But Rosberg held on to win by 18.5s through "daring and courage".

8. Sebastian Vettel, 2008 Italian GP Toro Rosso STR3

Started: 1st

Result: 1st

Podium: Gerhard Berger, Team Co-owner, Scuderia Toro Rosso, and Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso

Podium: Gerhard Berger, Team Co-owner, Scuderia Toro Rosso, and Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

"Introducing a new F1 star," said Autosport after Sebastian Vettel's first GP victory, which came in his 22nd start. Toro Rosso's 2008 season was one of its best, but even so the team formerly known as Minardi was a points scorer rather than a podium contender.

Rain during qualifying at Monza allowed Vettel to exploit the Ferrari-engined STR3 and he took a sensation pole. It was still wet on race day, but the expectation was that the quicker cars - such as Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren starting on the front row - would prove too strong over the 53 laps.

The race began behind the safety car and Vettel held the lead from Kovalainen when things got properly underway. And he pulled clear.

It was "a case study in wet-weather brilliance in the beautifully balanced Toro Rosso," according to Autosport's Mark Hughes. "Vettel was driving with a great uninhibited abandon, as if he had nothing to lose, sliding around just as he had in qualifying."

Vettel survived a wild moment early on and still led after the first round of stops. Kovalainen looked beaten, but his teammate was another matter. At half-distance, Vettel had the yet-to-stop Lewis Hamilton in his mirrors, the McLaren man charging after starting 15th.

Then Hamilton pitted and put on more 'extreme wets', McLaren anticipating more rain. This was a crucial moment. If it rained again, Hamilton could stay on those tyres to the end while Vettel needed another stop. But the rain stayed away, forcing Hamilton to pit again for intermediates.

Vettel therefore made his scheduled second pit visit without losing the lead. He came home 12.5s clear of Kovalainen to become F1's youngest winner at that time.

"Without Sebastian in the car this win would not have been possible," said Toro Rosso's technical director Giorgio Ascanelli.

"It was an incredible day, with a package that wasn't supposed to be close to the podium," said Vettel years later. "I'm extremely proud to have been part of that miracle day."

7. Graham Hill, 1962 German GP BRM P57

Started: 2nd

Result: 1st

Graham Hill, BRM P57

Graham Hill, BRM P57

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 1962 German GP at the Nurburgring is something of a forgotten gem, and was the scene of one of Graham Hill's greatest drives. Autosport described it as "one of the finest races ever seen on the famous German circuit."

There was drama in practice when Hill's new BRM was wrecked in a high-speed accident caused by an onboard TV camera falling off Carel Godin de Beaufort's Porsche. Hill escaped unscathed but had to switch to an older P57 for the rest of the weekend.

"Hill, Surtees and Gurney produced race-driving of the highest order, all three giving an immaculate exhibition of driving on wet roads," wrote Autosport's Gregor Grant. Come race day, the start was postponed by over an hour due to the terrible conditions causing minor landslides. Polesitter Dan Gurney led initially, but on lap three of the 15 Hill took the lead. The Lola of John Surtees snatched second two tours later, but all three remained in contention.

As well as pressure from the two behind, Hill also had to contend with a loose fire extinguisher, though he wasn't the only one with problems.

"The battery in the car broke off its mountings and it was moving around my clutch foot," said Gurney in a 2015 interview. The Porsche fell back but, once he was happy a conflagration was not about to begin, Gurney charged again.

He caught Surtees, but could not find a way by. The leading BRM had more straightline speed than the Lola, but Surtees believed he had worked out a way to win approaching the closing stages.

"I reckoned I could get through the fast right-hander leading onto the main straight better than Graham," said Surtees in 2014. "I thought I could get through on that bend and then make my car very wide.

"On the last lap I was there and I pulled out and in front of me was another bloody Porsche! I had to back off and that was it."

After almost 2h40m, Hill took the flag just 2.5s ahead of Surtees, with Gurney 1.9s further back. During a post-race interview Hill described the race as the hardest-fought of his career and it is unlikely many others approached it over the next 13 years.

6. Jean-Pierre Beltoise, 1972 Monaco GP BRM P160B

Started: 4th

Result: 1st

Jean-Pierre Beltoise, BRM P160B

Jean-Pierre Beltoise, BRM P160B

Photo by: Motorsport Images

"Surprise win for BRM and Beltoise at Monaco," said Autosport's cover and that could be considered something of an understatement when describing the 1972 race. Prior to round four of the championship, BRM's best result had been ninth. Even after it, Beltoise would manage no better than eighth for the rest of the campaign.

The Frenchman had shone in the wet before - most notably rising from 16th to second in the 1968 Dutch GP for Matra - but there is little doubt this was one of the greatest one-hit wonders in F1 history.

Beltoise was one of five BRMs entered and was the top qualifier in fourth, albeit 1.1s slower than title contender Emerson Fittipaldi's polesitting Lotus. The Ferraris of Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni completed the top three in a dry session.

Although the leading trio was also quick in wet practice, it was Beltoise who shot through into the lead at the start of the appallingly wet GP. And then the BRM simply drove away, five seconds ahead after three laps.

When Regazzoni and Fittipaldi both made minor errors on lap five, Ickx jumped to second. He seemed more capable of matching the leader's pace, but the gap see-sawed as the frontrunners made their way through traffic in the low-visibility conditions.

"Beltoise continued to drive with inspired confidence," wrote Patrick McNally in Autosport's report. "Any thoughts that it was a sprayless road that enabled him to pull away were quickly dispelled by the way JPB handled traffic.

"He passed people on the left, right and centre and wasn't above putting a couple of wheels on the pavement if the situation demanded."

Jackie Stewart, who had qualified eighth, was beginning to show signs of the medical problems that would prevent him from starting the next GP in Belgium, but he was the quickest Goodyear runner on a day Firestone had the edge.

The Tyrrell reached third around the halfway mark and caught Ickx, but a spin while trying to pass the Ferrari curtailed Stewart's challenge. He eventually fell to fourth with engine problems.

Despite a wild moment at Portier, Beltoise remained in the lead and took the flag 38.2s clear of Ickx. Everyone else was lapped and Beltoise's best lap was 0.6s faster than anyone else.

Beltoise would only score one more podium in his F1 world championship career, but that only adds to the feeling that his inspired Monaco victory was his day of days.

5. Lewis Hamilton, 2008 British GP McLaren MP4-23

Started: 4th

Result: 1st

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-23

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-23

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

"It's performances of that calibre that make legends," said Autosport after what remains arguably Hamilton's most dominant performance in F1.

After a couple of poor races - including his infamous pitlane gaffe in Canada - Hamilton had slumped to fourth in the points and needed a good weekend. Hamilton struggled in the dry qualifying session, but made a fantastic start from row two and nearly overtook teammate and polesitter Kovalainen at Copse, the two McLarens briefly touching.

While experienced hands like Mark Webber and Felipe Massa rotated on the wet first lap, Hamilton pressured his teammate. Clearly quicker, Hamilton made it by on lap five into Stowe as Kovalainen made things easy for him.

Despite having trouble with a misting visor he kept having to clear, Hamilton was faster and kinder to his rubber. He drew away, but faced a new challenge when Kovalainen spun out of second and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari started closing.

The top two came in together, but while Ferrari kept Raikkonen on the same set of inters, McLaren gave Hamilton a new set. As they exited, the rain returned, playing in to Hamilton's hands: new intermediates were better than old ones when water levels increased and Raikkonen was 22s behind just five laps after the stops.

That was the last anyone saw of Hamilton, despite a brief off at Abbey when the rain intensified again. At the second stops, McLaren fitted new intermediates at a time when the fastest on track were on 'extreme wet' tyres.

For a while, Hamilton was three seconds slower than the best on the extreme rubber but much faster than others on intermediates. He didn't have to stop again to change back to inters as the track dried, so his lead only grew further.

The result was that Hamilton lapped everyone up to and including Raikkonen in fourth, finishing 1m08.6s ahead of second-placed Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber.

"Picking my favourite race of all time is not that easy, but that was an unbelievable weekend," said Hamilton in a Mercedes interview at the end of 2016. "People were spinning off left, right and centre.

"I could see the fans standing up, cheering me on. That was one of the biggest highlights of my career."

4. Jim Clark, 1963 Belgian GP Lotus 25

Started: 8th

Result: 1st

Jim Clark, Lotus 25-Climax

Jim Clark, Lotus 25-Climax

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Clark had several candidates for this list, but his victory by nearly five minutes on a track he didn't like gets the nod. It's true he had the best car in the Lotus 25 and the 1500cc regulations of the time were not F1's most challenging, but the original 8.8-mile Spa circuit was still fearsome.

Practice didn't go Clark's way either and he uncharacteristically lined up eighth. But he made a fantastic start, one so good that team personnel and spectators standing next to the track had to move as he jinked right.

Graham Hill's BRM initially stayed with Clark, but the Lotus soon started to disappear in the damp conditions. After five laps he was eight seconds ahead. When gearbox troubles ended Hill's race just after half distance of the 32-lapper, Clark's lead became a minute and a half.

"Clark made one of those picture starts: from the third row he was in first spot long before the end of the pits," reported Grant.

On lap 24 the Belgian GP became a fully wet race when the heavens opened, complete with lightning. Lap times went from four minutes to six and Clark's lead grew yet further.

Conditions were so bad that Lotus founder Colin Chapman and BRM tech boss Tony Rudd called for the race to be stopped. Their request was refused.

At one stage, Clark lapped second-placed Bruce McLaren, but the Cooper got back ahead before the flag so that the Lotus's winning margin was 'only' 4m54s. To put the conditions into perspective, Clark's winning speed was just 113.8mph, the slowest Belgian GP since 1953, when the world championship was run to Formula 2 regulations.

3. Michael Schumacher, 1996 Spanish GP Ferrari F310

Started: 3rd

Result: 1st

The Ferrari team celebrate Michael Schumacher's victory in the Ferrari F310

The Ferrari team celebrate Michael Schumacher's victory in the Ferrari F310

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

"Ferrari's miracle man," reckoned Autosport after Schumacher scored his first win for the Italian team at Barcelona.

With a lack of dry pace (Schumacher was almost a second slower than the Williams of poleman Damon Hill) Ferrari opted for full-wet settings - maximum downforce and softer springs. Even so, the F310 had proved tricky in wet weather previously.

Williams and Benetton, somewhat surprisingly, opted for compromise set-ups in case conditions improved, but Schumacher made an appalling start. He was sixth at the end of the first lap, despite having started to recover ground.

"I went for the clutch and there was nothing," said Schumacher. "I nearly stalled, then tried it again - I just had an on/off clutch for some reason."

Thereafter, however, he "settled into a pace utterly beyond any of his rivals", according to Roebuck. Ferrari's Eddie Irvine went off on lap two, and Hill had the first of three excursions two laps later.

Schumacher overtook Gerhard Berger's Benetton on lap five to take third, then hunted down the other B196 of Jean Alesi, who he dived past at Turn 5 on lap nine. On lap 12 Schumacher overcame early leader Jacques Villeneuve at the same place, and after just two and a half tours was more than 10s clear.

"The moves were exquisitely judged, and now all Schumacher had to do was keep his concentration," reckoned Roebuck. That was done, Schumacher never losing the lead during two pitstops. Even the V10 Ferrari intermittently dropping onto eight or nine cylinders failed to give anyone else a chance.

More than any other driver, Schumacher experimented with different lines and was happy searching for grip at the very edges of the circuit. He won by 45s on a day more than half the field spun or crashed.

"It was one of the great wet weather drives in history, worthy of comparison with Ayrton Senna's performances at Estoril in 1985 or Donington in 1993," said Autosport.

Even Williams engineer James Robinson was impressed: "Watching the Ferrari, I don't think the car was brilliant. It looked like it was on ice. The guy is just something else. He was pretty amazing."

2. Ayrton Senna, 1985 Portuguese GP Lotus 97T

Started: 1st

Result: 1st

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T

Photo by: Sutton Images

The 1993 European GP is more famous, but Senna himself rated his first F1 world championship victory more. Given his inexperience at the time, the lack of traction control and the difficult nature of the turbocharged 1985 Lotus-Renault, we are inclined to agree.

Senna had already demonstrated his wet-weather prowess in the 1984 Monaco GP and at Estoril he started in the ideal place: pole position, the first of his career. Senna, in only his second F1 season, duly led from the off in appalling conditions, completing the first lap 2.7s clear of teammate Elio de Angelis.

Just before half-distance, the rain got so bad that even Senna - now 37s ahead - started gesticulating that the race should be stopped. It wasn't and Prost - still trying to pass de Angelis - simply aquaplaned into retirement on the main straight.The two Lotuses pulled away in the opening laps, with Senna edging clear of de Angelis, before Prost's McLaren moved forward to challenge for second.

"The big danger was that conditions changed all the time," said Senna. "It was difficult even to keep the car in a straight line sometimes and for sure the race should have been stopped.

"It was much worse than Monaco last year. Once I nearly spun in front of the pits, like Prost, and I was lucky to stay on the road."

Only nine of the 26 starters were classified, around half of the retirements due to spins or crashes, and Senna lapped everyone except Michele Alboreto's Ferrari, which finished 1m03s behind the Lotus.

"Senna's victory will be remembered as a classic. It was a mesmeric performance," said Roebuck in his Autosport report.

"Just occasionally comes a race when one driver makes the rest look ordinary, and this was one such. He had been in a different class right from the green light."

1. Jackie Stewart, 1968 German GP Matra MS10

Started: 6th

Result: 1st

Jackie Stewart, Matra MS10 Ford

Jackie Stewart, Matra MS10 Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

To beat Senna and Schumacher on this list required something special and Stewart's domination of this atrociously wet race on F1's all-time greatest circuit, the 14.2-mile Nurburgring, was just that. It's true he had a tyre advantage over his leading rivals and that the Matra MS10 was a fine car, but the challenge of the track and the circumstances of Stewart's success earn it our number one slot.

"An F1 car round the 'Ring was a monster - you were travelling so fast and you took off something like 13 times, and it was narrower than today," recalls Stewart.

"It was definitely the daddy of them all, there was no race track in the world that was even close."

Stewart lined up on row three after a disjointed and delayed practice during which few drivers set representative times due to the wet and foggy conditions, and electrical problems on the Matra. But he stormed up to third at the start.

"I went down the concrete pitlane - there was more grip than on the Tarmac and I had hardly any wheelspin at all," adds Stewart. He then passed Chris Amon's Ferrari at Adenau - "I don't think he expected that one" - and overcame the Lotus of Graham Hill to lead by eight seconds at the end of the first lap.

"By the second lap Stewart had pulled a further 25s ahead, the blue Matra looking solitary but secure at the head of the field," said Autosport's report, which also described the conditions as "unbelievably bad" and "probably the worst at the 'Ring since before the war".

On lap eight Stewart set what would be the race's fastest lap - 9m36s, which was a full 15s faster than anyone else managed for the 14-lapper. In the closing stages, second-placed Hill spun and stalled before recovering, increasing Stewart's advantage yet further. The final winning margin was 4m03.2s.

"I made one mistake, just after the Karussell. It was so wet the rivers weren't the same every lap and I hit one," adds Stewart. "I didn't go round it but I went real slow."

As if the conditions weren't challenging enough, Stewart was driving with his right wrist in a plastic support, having broken his scaphoid in an accident at Jarama.

"If it had been a dry race I wouldn't have won," explains Stewart, who was forced to miss the Spanish and Monaco GPs that year. "It might have been too much for me, but in the wet it didn't really worry me at all."

Even by Stewart's standards - the 1968 Dutch and 1971 Canadian GPs were also candidates for this list - the drive was remarkable, and worthy of the top spot.

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Series Formula 1
Author Kevin Turner