Another great pub debate question, of course 4WD is the best solution, but some purists would call that cheating.
Technically its a very complex subject, not least because RWD or FWD is only a small part of the whole picture. Suspension geometry and weight distribution are critical, but also tyres have a dramatic effect, and a cunning change of rubber can change the car’s handling characteristics utterly.
Best traction is usually found when the most weight is bearing down on the driven wheels, favouring FWD or mid engine RWD, but of course the engine is usually less than 15% of a cars weight, and at speed the aerodynamics take over, so even that rule is not set in stone.
There are, of course, rules of thumb. Most dynamics engineers reckon that FWD works best for up to approximately 300 bhp, above that and the weight shift rearwards when accelerating favours RWD.
When accelerating out of corners, FWD will tend to accelerate the car in the direction the front wheels are pointing in, more or less, where as RWD will tend to accelerate the car along its centre line, which on a corner where the front wheels are pulling the front away from that line so the driving force pushes the back end out, so FWD cars can get on the power sooner. But as ever, either case can be engineered around.
Going fast down the road also depends to a surprisingly high degree on how well the car suits your driving style; if your car does exactly what you are expecting, under or over steering, then you will get the best from it. It’s that predictability and familiarity that allows you to place the car accurately and easily just where it needs to be. That’s why two team mate’s F1 cars from the same stable are often set up to handle very differently. Also visibility is important, if the corners apex is masked by a massive A pillar then you cant judge your position properly on your mountain road. Confidence is key.
This may go some way to explain why some people swear by one or other set up, there will always be die-hard RWD fans who just cant get to grips with FWD, and equally there are hoards of FWD evangelists who can’t understand why anyone would want a car that spins off the road when you accelerate round a corner.