F1 drivers relieved, confused and angry in equal measure after Belgian Grand Prix washout

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – It took Formula One three hours and forty-four minutes to finish three laps on the Belgian Grand Prix, the shortest race in the championship’s 71-year historical past.

The three laps had been accomplished behind the Safety Car, half factors had been handed out to the highest ten finishers and right here was even a podium ceremony for Max Verstappen, a delighted George Russell (on the rostrum for the primary time) and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Fans on the circuit had been livid, with many staying in the heavy rain all afternoon solely to be rewarded by the sight of three processional laps behind the Safety Car.

Hamilton led the criticism of the end result, labelling the occasion “a farce” and repeatedly saying post-race that the followers who attended Spa-Francorchamps deserved a full refund.

Yet, notably, Hamilton’s frustration wasn’t aimed on the resolution to not race. The Mercedes driver, famend as a grasp of moist circumstances, admitted racing safely on Sunday was merely unattainable.

“Obviously, we can’t control the weather, and I love racing in the rain, but today was something else,” Hamilton mentioned. “You really couldn’t see the car ahead, there was aquaplaning, it was unfortunately just a disaster on track.”

In truth, none of Hamilton’s rivals disagreed with the choice to not go racing on Sunday. But, like Hamilton, numerous them had been pissed off with how the occasion unfolded.

Before we have a look at a number of the extra contentious points, such because the half factors, it is necessary to take a look at why F1 seemed to be taking part in an unattainable ready recreation in opposition to Mother Nature on Sunday afternoon.

The causes racing was unsafe

The rain you could possibly see on the tv screens was not the identical because the rain seen by way of the window of the Spa-Francorchamps media centre. It was already heavy in the morning, and that depth received worse after lunch because the allotted begin time — 3 p.m. native time — approached.

It is an understatement to say the TV photographs didn’t do it justice. By the time the race was supposed to start out, the rain was blowing sideways throughout the paddock and pit lane. That remained the case for a lot of the afternoon, with one slight let up (which we’ll come to).

McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo later instructed that the perfect time to start out the race would have been half an hour earlier than the scheduled time, when circumstances had been higher than they’d be for the remainder of the day — a truth we all know now however didn’t know then. Even so, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez nonetheless misplaced management of his automobile on the best way to the gird at 2:30 p.m. and slid right into a wall.

When 3 p.m. rolled across the rain wasn’t a difficulty as a lot because the standing water on observe. The design of recent F1 vehicles means the spray out of the rear of the automobile is big.

Lando Norris identified that it was hanging how little water the Mercedes Safety Car, a modified AMG GT R highway automobile, threw out behind it in comparability to the 20 F1 vehicles which had been following its velocity behind. It was an evening and day’s distinction. At racing velocity, the spray behind the F1 vehicles would have been even higher.

When Verstappen pulled into the pit-lane on the first suspension of the race, which got here after three formation laps, he mentioned he felt the circumstances at 3.30 p.m. had been ok to start out the race — a verdict he echoed after the race was lastly deserted at 6.44 p.m.

The 19 drivers behind Verstappen had been experiencing issues a bit in another way to the race chief. George Russell, working second, claimed he could not see the flashing pink mild on the again of Verstappen’s automobile.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz mentioned he may barely see previous his steering wheel.

“From pole position for sure you can start,” Sainz mentioned when informed Verstappen’s viewpoint.

“From P11, there wasn’t, at any point during today, I saw it ready to start.

“Trust me, if there would have been the smallest of home windows, I’d have been the primary one on the radio telling them to start out.”

Pierre Gasly, running in fifth, put it most bluntly. Gasly started his weekend by laying flowers at Raidillon and saying a prayer for his friend Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in a Formula 2 crash at Spa in 2019. Hubert lost control of his car and was t-boned by Juan Manuel Correa, who was unable to take evasive action at one of the fastest sections of race track in motor racing.

Gasly hinted that F1 risked a disaster if it tried to race in those conditions.

“The downside was, you at all times depend on all the fellows in entrance of you to remain on observe and go at an identical velocity that you are going, as a result of if any person is stopped then you definately arrive at 200-250 [km/h],” Gasly said.

“Visibility was about 30 metres. Once you see the automobile at 200-250, there isn’t any approach you are stopping. We’ve seen sufficient horrible issues right here on this observe, I believe sadly [not racing] was the proper possibility.”

Risk does not just apply to drivers either. As pointed out by Sebastian Vettel, the safety of the 20 drivers on track is one consideration — the safety of the fans dotted around the circuit is another.

“No-one desires anybody to get damage,” Vettel said.

“We do not wish to get damage in the automobile and we do not need any spectators to get damage. That’s at all times precedence primary. It’s in all probability not a preferred resolution however in all probability the proper resolution in the circumstances at the moment.”

For FIA race director Michael Masi, who ultimately decides whether it is safe enough to go racing, it was a near-impossible situation.

As well as fielding messages and queries from F1’s 10 teams, Masi was also studying weather radars and waiting for an opportunity to go racing again. While F1 has often found a lull in weather or a window of opportunity in previous rainy Sundays, on this occasion the forecast was bleak.

Before the race several teams told ESPN their forecasts had the rain continuing as it was all the way through to midnight. Complicating this situation even further was that F1’s rigid schedule allows for no leeway in terms of rescheduling to Monday or to later in the season. It was now or never.

One opportunity presented itself at shortly after 6pm, when the rain briefly relented over La Source and then the rest of the circuit. This lull in the weather lasted for maybe 10 minutes at best and much of that time was spent with F1’s Medical Car doing reconnaissance laps of the long Spa circuit to see whether the standing water had dissipated.

By the time F1 had got the pack out to “begin” the race, the rain had intensified again. There would be no second let up and after three laps behind the Safety Car, the race was officially stopped.

Was the ‘start’ a genuine attempt to go racing?

The grid’s two most successful drivers, Hamilton and Vettel, were sceptical about the motivations behind the short flurry of track activity. While Masi insisted the cars were sent out to capitalise on what looked like a fleeting — but very real — break in the conditions.

Ahead of the first attempt to get the race underway at 3:25 p.m., Vettel had been questioning why F1 was even trying to run cars on the race track.

When told the formation laps would take place behind the safety car, Vettel radioed Aston Martin to say: “What’s the distinction now? Nothing.

“I guess TV money is the difference. I’m just stating the obvious. There’s more rain the last 20 minutes now [than before]”.

Hamilton echoed Vettel’s sentiment.

“Money talks and the two laps to start the race is all a money scenario,” Hamilton mentioned after the race. “So everyone gets their money and I think the fans should get theirs back too.

“Because sadly they did not get to see what they paid for.”

“We had been despatched out for one purpose and one purpose solely,” he later wrote on social media, again hinting that F1 was trying to satisfy commercial or financial obligations.

F1 boss Stefano Domenicali denied this was the reason.

“Two laps or zero laps, it does not make a distinction in that respect,” Domenicali said about money.

“That’s why after I hear there have been business discussions behind [the scenes], that is completely not true. When we’re speaking about racing there’s a accountability and a transparent course of.

“These things are not connected at all.”

When requested if his resolution had been influenced by exterior elements equivalent to business concerns, Masi mentioned: “No, none, zero, never.

“And that might by no means develop into a part of my consideration. Not in any respect.”

Half factors

What was most remarkable was that most drivers who had scored points were speaking out against it. While Russell could be forgiven for celebrating his maiden podium finish, which was built on the back of a remarkable Saturday qualifying performance, most of his rivals found it difficult to stomach being rewarded for a Sunday with zero racing laps.

When it was put to him that it could be seen as a reward for qualifying well, Vettel replied: “Yeah, however that is a joke.

“If you want to get a reward for qualifying you should get points for qualifying [on Saturday].

“What did we do at the moment? I do not know.”

Sainz said two laps is not an acceptable minimum requirement for points.

“If [the start] was accomplished simply with the intention of awarding factors, then I believe it is absolute nonsense,” Sainz said. “I do not assume we must always do any laps simply to change the ultimate results of a race.

“If it was done with the intention of actually running and re-starting the race, then yes, which brings me to the next point, which is how far into the race you call it a race?

“If there have been really no race laps, no competitors, why ought to factors be given and any outcome be given, as a result of there was mainly no race, I did not race, so I did not deserve the half some extent I received, so I do not know why I received it.”

McLaren boss Zak Brown called for a review of the two-lap rule and said F1 needs to look at ways to have a flexible schedule to allow for last-minute contingency plans.

“The rules state that after we do a couple of laps it may be known as a race,” Brown said. “I believe that must be reviewed. I do not assume anybody would argue the climate climate was protected to race in however we want a greater answer as a sport when that type of scenario occurs the end result shouldn’t be a race after three laps behind a Safety Car.

“That is what the rules say but that now needs to be reviewed by all of us to learn from today and realise if we are given this type of situation what would we do differently to make sure the outcome is everyone gets their race in, whether that’s the following day, whether we come back.

“It’s fairly sophisticated with the schedule however I do not assume anybody would say at the moment it felt proper calling {that a} race.”