Heavy rain is forecast for Friday’s running at the Belgian GP, and with only one practice session available, this could pose a big problem for the teams and drivers.
With the Belgian GP being a sprint weekend, the usual three hours of practice are knocked down to one before the cars go into parc fermé conditions for qualifying.
This makes the time to fine-tune car setup already much smaller than usual for the teams, but the possibility of that being removed altogether in heavy rain at the already fearsome Spa-Francorchamps has raised a few eyebrows among the drivers as they spoke ahead of the weekend.
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher and Sam Cooper
Charles Leclerc: ‘Safety comes first’ for everyone
With the threat of rain hanging over Belgium this weekend, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc explained that he hopes to see the FIA not bow to pressure to start the race or sessions when the track is too wet, referencing the tragic deaths of Anthoine Hubert and Dilano van ‘t Hoff at the circuit in recent years – the latter coming just a few weeks ago in wet conditions.
Leclerc told media including PlanetF1.com: “It’s really difficult to put into words what we are seeing, apart from saying that we are seeing nothing – but we are not exaggerating when we say we don’t see anything, we really don’t see anything when it’s raining, and this is a really big problem for Formula 1, for motorsport in general, any single seaters.
“Now, we have quite a bit of downforce, there’s quite a lot of spray, and then this causes quite a lot of incidents just because we cannot react to what there is in front.
“Easy to say that, much more difficult to find a solution for that, but I know that the FIA is on it, and is obviously trying to do the best on that.
“And then the last thing is when is it safe to start a race [in wet conditions]? This is another topic for the FIA to look at closely, especially on a weekend like this, where it seems we will have quite a lot of rain throughout the whole weekend.
“To not feel the pressure of starting a race just because we didn’t have any running, which we could be in that situation this weekend.
“But at the end, obvious to say but safety comes first, and this needs to be the priority, and people.
“First of all, as drivers, we shouldn’t complain if we don’t have any laps, because it is not safe to do so with everything that has happened.”
George Russell calls on FIA to be ‘bold’ over prioritising safety
The 2021 edition of the Belgian GP saw George Russell take his first official podium finish in Formula 1, though the race-going fans were left feeling short-changed after only two laps took place behind the Safety Car in soaking wet conditions before half points were awarded.
While the weather was out of the drivers’ hands on the day, a similar forecast could be in the offing for Friday and Saturday in particular.
Mercedes driver Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, believes the sport’s governing body needs to continue to prioritise the safety of those behind the wheel, particularly in the wake of Van ‘t Hoff’s passing in FRECA at the end of June.
“The weather I think looks better on Sunday, so I think Sunday will be going ahead,” he told media including PlanetF1.com.
“But, following recent events, I think the FIA have to be bold with their decisions when it comes to safety, when it comes to visibility.
“We know what the situation was two years ago. We don’t want it to be strung out as perhaps it was then, but as I said, we’re going to need some bold decisions.
“We all want to race, everybody wants to race. But when you go down that straight at over 200 miles per hour and you can’t see 50 metres in front of you, you know, there will be huge incidents. So yeah, they’ve got a big responsibility this weekend.”
Lewis Hamilton places trust in FIA over weather concerns
Lewis Hamilton added his belief that the FIA wouldn’t allow racing to take place if the governing body did not believe it was safe to do so, and praised the improvements in safety that have been made in recent seasons.
“It’s not something that I ever think of as a driver, it’s not something that you can ever really have enter your mind,” Hamilton responded when asked about any concerns he may have about his safety while driving.
“But I trust in what the FIA do. We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t think that we would be safe, and I believe that, again, we trust in them, they’ve done such incredible work over the past couple of decades. I trust in them to make the right decisions moving forwards.”
Alfa Romeo driver and Hamilton’s former Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas added: “Similar thinking from my side. I think we rely obviously a lot on the FIA, and decisions being made, whether it’s about conditions and stuff.
“Some tracks are more dangerous than the others, and especially if there’s bit of weather added. But yeah, obviously, visibility is a big one here if it’s raining, but that’s when someone else needs to control the drivers that [whether] can they start the race or not, you know, to make sure that nothing happens.”
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez concluded: “It’s just important to to consider it, especially with the race conditions. Visibility can be really poor, so we are in the hands of our race director, nothing we can do now. So we just fully trust him.”
FP1 cancellation could prove costly for drivers
Given the tight time constraints on the drivers and teams in practice on Friday, with qualifying set to take place on Friday afternoon, the possibility of no running in FP1 could be damaging to their chances, as Alpine’s Esteban Ocon explained while addressing media including PlanetF1.com on Thursday.
Even though time has been spent in the simulators working on car setup, changes are often made at the track, and the Frenchman said the team has been working hard to make sure they are in the best place possible in case FP1 is rained off.
“I mean, a sprint weekend is often a big challenge because we only have one session, first of all, to set up the car and get ready for the rest of the weekend, so you can’t really miss that session and make a mistake,” he said.
“[It] has happened to us in the past in a past sprint weekend, and we know how important it is.
“Obviously, if it’s wet, we keep more tyres, and if you can’t run we keep more tyres for the rest of the weekend, which is not a bad thing in a way, but it will lead us to uncertainty.
“Obviously we’ve worked hard in the simulator to make sure we have a good setup and we’re ready for the weekend if that happens, so, in any case, you know, we are the most ready that we can be.”