The shortest race in Formula 1 history became the biggest farce since the 2005 Indianapolis GP as F1 spent some slow laps behind the Safety Car to declare a result at the Belgian Grand Prix.
PlanetF1 gives its verdict on the race, if you can even call it that…
When it is a race not a race? When it is a three-lap procession behind a Safety Car.
Formula 1 faced a difficult decision on Sunday when, as the rain bucketed down at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Michael Masi and co tried to find a gap in the weather that would allow for the grand prix to start safely. They couldn’t, the rain just kept coming.
So instead they decided on a brief procession behind the Safety Car, with the red flag thrown in the third lap, that would allow Formula 1 to declare a classification for the ‘race’.
Last I checked, and I did just that this morning with the Oxford English dictionary, a race meant ‘a competition between people, animals, vehicles, etc. to see which one is the faster or fastest’.
But there was no competition on Sunday, there were just 20 drivers risking their lives in treacherous conditions in which they could not see the car ahead so that Formula 1 could tick the procedural boxes.
It was a cheap win for Max Verstappen, a hollow first podium for George Russell, and while this will go down in the history books as a race, it was anything but.
It would have been better for Formula 1 to have cut its losses, declared the event a washout, rather than pretend that Sunday’s farce was a grand prix.
I would have preferred to have seen the rules allow the points to have been awarded based purely on qualifying, instead of a pretend race.
Did that actually happen? I’m still in a state of shock that ‘race’ day played out the way it did.
Although it wasn’t done with the slightest whiff of conviction or authority, I actually think the FIA stumbled their way to making correct decisions and putting driver safety first throughout the miserable afternoon at a track where we sadly know all too well of the danger it can cause.
That was until 1817 local time when they decided some ‘laps’ behind the Safety Car was the best resolution and, where it all completely fell apart, was the administering of points.
As much as Stefano Domenicali and co are trying to deny that decision was motivated by money, Sunday at Spa gave us all a depressing reminder that Formula 1 is a business first and a sport second.
What did warm my cold, cold heart slightly was the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso all calling out the decision to award points for that ‘race’. It was an insult to the drivers, an insult to the fans, and an insult to the sport.
When Liberty Media first took over from Bernie they said they would be putting the fans first. Given how expensive it is to watch Formula 1 both at the track and on TV, I have always doubted that mission statement – but they have a chance here to show there is a faint element of truth to it.
It is with hope, rather than expectation, that the fans who braved that circus act in those awful conditions are compensated in some way.
Formula 1 really should have packed up and moved on. Instead we are left with a Grand Prix that somehow has less credibility than what happened in Indianapolis 16 years ago.
F1: The pinnacle of motorsport
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) August 29, 2021
Simply put, there was no actual race on Sunday, and rightfully so.
As we have seen too many times in recent years, Spa is an enormously dangerous circuit in the dry, let alone when the surface has been soaked by rain for hours on end.
Ultimately, the drivers know best, and given the vast majority of them didn’t want to race, bringing a halt to proceedings was the right call from Masi and co. What wasn’t, was refusing to accept that things wouldn’t be able to get going again.
A quick look at a weather forecast made it abundantly clear that the rain would continue to pour down for the rest of the day, meaning the track conditions were only going to get worse. Given that, things should have been called off there and then.
That would, of course, have been disappointing for the fans that were in attendance, but being sent home early surely beats sitting in the wet, cold conditions for hours and hours only to see the cars complete a few laps behind the Safety Car; laps that caused a huge amount of unnecessary confusion and controversy.
Because of the brief restart, it’s now not clear whether fans are entitled to full refunds that they should be getting, and drivers getting points doesn’t feel quite right either given the distinct lack of any racing whatsoever.
Masi said at the end of the day that the weather had beaten them, and that’s okay; sh*t happens. By refusing to quickly accept that defeat and call it a day though, he and the FIA made things much worse than they had to be.
Sometimes, there are more important things than ensuring a race takes place, especially when it isn’t actually a race at all.
Right, let’s try and make sense of this. Laps were knocked off after time delays, Alpine didn’t believe the race actually started at all, Sergio Perez wasn’t allowed to have his car fixed to get back into the race, and then was, but was he a lap down or not? Have we all missed something here?
There was one official lap, a few formation laps and somehow, we got to a point where three drivers sprayed champagne at the end of it. Confused? Join the rest of us.
To Formula 1’s credit, it’s absolutely fantastic that we, as fans and members of the media, now get to hear what the teams say to the FIA in moments like this, as it shows that Michael Masi’s job is an extremely difficult one.
However, the radio messages showed up quite significantly different ways in how the regulations can be interpreted and the wiggle room involved. In a sport where every rule is usually so precise and cut-and-dry (just ask Sebastian Vettel about his fuel tank), it’s rare to have heard disagreements on the regs in real time, and you can probably expect those rules to be tightened up pretty quickly after this weekend.
I’ve seen debate about fans getting a refund and some voices saying that they wouldn’t get one, as they’d already seen plenty of racing through F3, Porsche Supercup and W Series. But I don’t buy that. You don’t buy tickets for a concert, see the support act, then walk out satisfied if the headliners don’t show up.
You’d hope the fans get some kind of compensation as a result of this, but it’s pretty disingenuous to suggest that racing should have taken place – particularly after the W Series pile-up and Lando Norris’ crash at Eau Rouge. Erring on the side of caution was absolutely the right thing to do.
Ultimately, it was encouraging to see the FIA heed Vettel’s words from Saturday – which is always a wise thing to do at the best of times – where he feels “it’s better to be safe one time too many than one time too little.”
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) August 29, 2021
Merry Christmas! As Fernando Alonso quite rightly said, Christmas came early for those ‘finishing in the top 10’ at Spa. He was left with a P11-shaped lump of coal.
It really is hard to process the farcical scenes of the Belgian Grand Prix. While in agreement that racing could not happen in those conditions, the way we got to a race result is just impossible to comprehend.
It was ticking boxes to the extreme, the mandatory couple of laps behind a Safety Car to create the race classification. You can not then just say ‘job done, that’s the race result, onto the podium’.
A podium celebration, really? Formula 1 is meant to house the best 20 drivers in the world, yet anyone capable of finding first gear and the throttle could have competed on Sunday theoretically.
The whole thing was simply conducted under a state on confusion, whether it was Sergio Perez’s repair job, confirmation of if the race had actually started or not, or even how much time was left to get the race going. Had the clock even started at all? We all ended up with sore heads.
Also, spare a thought for George Russell. His first podium in Formula 1 will now always be remembered with an asterisk next to it.
As for the fans, well someone may as well have been sent out into the stands to take away their umbrellas, just to crown what had been a torrid day for them. I hope Lewis Hamilton keeps the ball rolling on his demands that they are refunded, or a “free” event is put together.
Of course there is truth to the claim that the drivers earned their finishing positions through qualifying, but that is overshadowed by the painful Sunday slap in the face.