The following may seem paradoxical but it has been confirmed by Paolo Andreucci, who knows a thing or two about driving on every type of terrain: sometimes, it's easier to find grip on ice than snow. With the right tyres, however. In the Nordic countries, where the temperature remains below zero for almost the entire winter and ice is a constant factor on the roads, studded tyres can help you find the grip required to travel with maximum security. “If anything, the problem comes when a layer of snow gets between the studs and the ice, as this can prevent your tyres from gripping the surface,” explains Paolo Andreucci, the 11-time Italian rally champion. Andreucci is a professional driver who also used to be a professional skier, so he is more than familiar with the effects of metal on icy surfaces. Whether it be the metal in the edges of his skis or the studs in the tyres of his car.
"First, you have to know exactly what you are dealing with. Just like there are different types of road, there are also different types of snow and ice, and the amount of friction can change radically," the Italian driver explains. He also adds that "On ice, however, only studs can create friction. The amount of grip depends on the shape and dimensions of the studs themselves." In any case – and this goes without saying – the grip when you're travelling on typical winter surfaces is far inferior to driving on dry tarmac. So how should you deal with it?
GENTLY DOES IT
"It's important to drive gently, delicately, regardless of whether you're accelerating or braking. You should use the steering and pedals lightly," Andreucci says. Because you can only rely on a very low level of grip, you should try to reduce torque as much as possible, both in terms of the power from the car's engine and the force created by the brakes and the steering wheel. If you want to know how important it is to take it easy when driving on ice, just try walking on an icy surface. Walking won't cause you any problems if you're just putting one foot carefully in front of the other, but if you start running it becomes almost impossible for the soles of your feet to find the grip they need to transmit the force imposed by your legs. It works the same way when you want to stop: slowing down your steps until you come to a halt isn't a problem, but if you try to stop yourself immediately you will end up slipping over.
As every skier knows only too well, a sudden change of surface is full of risk: passing from soft snow to a sheet of ice without exercising the right amount of force on the edges of the ski means you are guaranteed to fall over. Which is why when you're travelling down the slope, it's always a good idea to look ahead so you can work out what kind of surface you are dealing with. On the roads of the European continent, the changes in temperature from day to night can easily lead to sheets of ice where before there was snow: during the day the surface becomes softer, water collects and then turns to ice during the night. After, in the morning, the ice is transformed once again into water, but this depends on the warmth of the sun: a patch of shade, for example, may contain hidden dangers, both because of the extra cold and also because it is harder to see the surface properly. This means that when you're driving it's incredibly important to look ahead to see if you're going to pass through any shaded areas: if so, it's better to slow down in advance so you're ready for anything. Returning to the initial paradox, driving in the conditions most typical in Northern Europe can actually be easier and safer, partly because local road regulations permit the use of studded tyres, and partly because the conditions are easier to interpret and tend to vary less over the course of a day.
TRUST IN YOUR BRAKES (IF YOU HAVE ABS)
Regardless of the type of surface you're faced with, Paolo Andreucci has some advice for dealing with winter driving conditions where ice is a potential risk. "Always brake before a bend, not as you're executing the manoeuvre. When making a turn, it's better to slow down as early as possible, then start accelerating again as you leave the turn: losing tyre grip in the middle part of the turn can be really dangerous. If you do lose grip, then you should use the brakes straight away as long as your car has ABS: you can brake sharply even if you're in the middle of the turn as the electronics in your braking system will establish how to brake properly in relation to the grip of the wheels on the surface." When, on the other hand, there is a lot of snow on the ground, you should be careful with the "tracks" created by the movements of other cars: "especially on less well-travelled roads, where there is more snow on the surface, as the tracks can interfere with the steering: if they do, the most important thing is not to panic. You should slow down until the car has regained its stability."