BEHIND THE HEADLINES – Belgium – Race without racing

Behind The Headlines Features

Formula One has had crazy memorable races, but Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix will go down in history as the shortest ‘race’ and ex in history. Well can you even call it a race? The race essentially was a three-lap procession around the circuit behind the safety car, to reach the minimum required for points to be awarded.

The FIA were placed in a very difficult position, we have had qualifying delayed by a day but delaying a whole race by a day would have been impossible. Sunday was effectively a washout, we have had wet races but this was a biblical flood with rivers of water running across the track.

Some will draw comparisons to Indianapolis 2005, but three hours and forty-four minutes to get a three-lap race behind the safety car.

Why does it count as a race?

We still got a race according to the Sporting Regulations, which state “If a sprint qualifying session or race is suspended under Article 50, and cannot be resumed, no points will be awarded if the leader has completed two laps or less, half points will be awarded if the leader has completed more than two laps but less than 75% of the original sprint qualifying session or race distance and full points will be awarded if the leader has completed 75% or more of the original sprint qualifying session or race distance”

So we completed three laps to confirm the results of qualifying to award half points. But a race involves racing, Sunday however simply was not safe to allow any racing as we saw biblical weather fall at Spa. We were all in uncharted territory, we will need change. The regulations will need to be looked at again, and changes will be made.

From the start looking at the weather forecast, it was clear that conditions were going to be challenging, so it was then right we did everything we could to try and get at least a few laps in. But the rules were later thrown out the window, the three-hour race rule thrown out the window and the way the results are taken in the event of a stoppage meant they did not get over this marker in the final race classification.

Article 51.14 states: “If the sprint qualifying session or the race cannot be resumed the results will be taken at the end of the penultimate lap before the lap during which the signal to suspend the sprint qualifying session or the race was given.”

But there was a rare moment of unity in the paddock between the drivers, on the conditions being too dangerous to race.

Writing in his post-race column, motorsport managing director Ross Brawn said “The FIA tried everything they could, sending the cars out twice behind the Safety Car to assess the conditions. It wasn’t so much the intensity of the rain that was the problem, more that it was consistent which led to very poor visibility.”

“At the end of the day, safety comes first. And it wasn’t safe enough to continue the race. So the FIA did the best they could in what have been very challenging circumstances, of which we’ve not seen in decades.”

Do the regulation need changing?

The regulation requires two laps to be completed, this seems odd, the fact you can drive two laps and call it a race, as well as award points based on qualifying, seems silly. But I think this is likely to be ‘a once in a century event,’ but I think this race is one where you can have battles.

No one could have predicted that this situation would have ever happened. F1 and the FIA accept the situation needs to be addressed but this was a probably once in a centuries event. The pandemic has been challenging, but you would have thought we should then be able to race through anything.

I think it was right to not race, it was simply too dangerous, and we would have seen accidents and we know that lessons were learnt following the death of Jules Bianchi in 2015. To me, it seems the sport is being rightly more cautious, but being a Sunday we were in a very difficult position, if that had been Friday or Saturday we would have cancelled practice and delayed qualifying.

I remember ahead of last years aborted race in Melbourne, Hamilton said, “money talks.” Again, after this ‘race’ he repeated that message, “Money talks. It was literally the two laps to start the race. The sport made a bad choice today.”

In the press conference, Hamilton also drew comparisons to Melbourne last year, “Us being in Melbourne last year, there are some similarities to how today’s gone down, but at least everyone’s safe.”

“I don’t know all the politics in the background, but my biggest concern is the fans probably should get their money back and, I don’t know if, by doing those two laps means they don’t.”

Fernando Alonso as well joining the calls to express their sympathy for the fans, who were out for hours in terrible weather and did not see a Grand Prix. Saying, “It is sad for the people. With this weather they have been always supporting and, after this pandemic, now to see them is so nice and when you can give them nothing it is terribly sad. A very strange day today.”

Is Spa too dangerous

The Arden Forest can always create drama, we know and saw in both qualifying for the F1 and then the W Series race the dangers of racing in these conditions. I think we were right to abandon the race, but the whole situation was unpredictable. Looking at the weather forecast it was always going to be wet, but no predictions of it setting in was made.

Why then wasn’t the race brought forward? That decision would have had to be made by the stewards, F1 CEO and former team principal Stefano Domenicali explained “It’s the stewards that control that if you want to change the time. As far as the information that we had, there was, let’s say, considered to be normal rain. There was no sign that the rain would have been so bad. Otherwise, a decision could have been taken by the stewards.”

This race will go down in history as the only one to feature no racing, but this is Spa you expect challenging conditions. The question is if they “knew the track wasn’t any better and they did it just so they could do two laps and declare a race” and do two laps at 3pm.

Eau Rouge

The last few years have reopened the debate about the safety of Eau Rouge / Raidillon, two years from the accident that claimed the life of Anthoine Hubert and left Juan Manuel Correa with serious injuries, and just weeks after another major accident in the Spa 24 sportscar race, there were two big shunts at the same complex that reignited the debate.

Lando Norris was the first to crash on Saturday during a wet qualifying, it makes you wonder did that play into the decisions to delay and ultimately abandon the race. We also saw a W Series accident on Friday, Through all of the calls for safety changes at Eau Rouge/Raidillon, there was a reminder that they are planned and on the way for 2022 as part of Spa’s €80 million redevelopment programme.

I think that we need changes in the section as cars we know are getting faster while next year we expect cars to be slower, while the addition of gravel should slow the corner down a bit, as well as preventing cars from bouncing back towards the circuit.

Points

Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were all critical of the decision to award points for Sunday. While they accepted that it was not safe to race they do not understand why what happened resulted in points being given out.

The Spaniard said “I agree over the conditions, the only thing I don’t agree is why they do two laps, and they give the points because we didn’t race. We didn’t have the chance to score points, and many people [didn’t]. I’m P11, I didn’t have any green light lap to score a point, so we didn’t score.”

Vettel was outspoken about half points being awarded, despite the fact he received five for finishing in fifth. When asked if that was a fair reward for his qualifying performance on Saturday, he said: “But that’s a joke. If you want to get a reward for qualifying you should get points for qualifying. What did we do today? I don’t know.”

The only good news

The race proved one thing though, qualifying does matter, George Russell put in a brilliant lap in the wet to take third on the grid in the Williams. The Englishman taking his maiden podium, still believing the car is the seventeenth fastest, highlighting his achievement on the previous day, while also illuminating the challenge he had awaiting him were the race to have started as normal.

Russell, by qualifying second, therefore finished second and stood on the podium with race-winner Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. It has been an incredible two races in Budapest he scored his first points for Williams, he then put in that incredible qualifying to split the two title contenders.

He told Sky Sports, “I have to admit, it was quite a strange feeling because earning this podium without really doing any race laps, I don’t think I’ve had this in my whole career – let alone for a Formula 1 race!”

“I guess I’m not quite as elated as I ordinarily would be, but going back to the garage, celebrating with the guys, trophy in one hand, champagne in the other, I’m sure we’ll all remember this for a long, long time.”

Russell, I think has proven himself on track even more so, the rain I think played an important role in getting him second. After Sakhir, I wrote F1 can be cruel but also requires luck, a “colossal” pit-stop error we know cost him victory. We know Mercedes have made the decision, as to who will partner Hamilton next year, but naturally, you need to ask is that being reviewed?

I think back to Thursday’s comments reading body language and the way Russell was talking, it seemed to me he seemed to know but officially he and Valtteri Bottas know their future, in the press conference they both said, “no news.”

When asked by Motorsport.com if he wanted both Russell and Bottas to have their futures sorted before making an announcement, Wolff replied: “Yes. And it’s not only our call, but there are other parties involved and you have to always proceed with respect and with diligence. It’s purely a question of having everybody aligned and contracts signed.”

Looking at what I’ve heard, and the general feeling is that Russell will be prompted, but we are waiting on confirmation of Kimi Raikkonen retiring allowing Alfa Romeo to announce Bottas as the latest rumours suggest. I think we are going to see a flurry of announcements at Monza, as normal.

The only ‘good’ news story from Sunday is that Russell ‘proved’ himself, we all believe him to be heir apparent to Hamilton and we know how good he has been on Saturday hence why he has earned

What happened at Spa will be remembered forever, its ramifications on not just this year’s championship but the future of F1…

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.