Three minutes and 27 seconds. That was all it took for Max Verstappen to register victory at Formula 1’s Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday at Spa-Francorchamps.
But in reality it was a absurd afternoon as torrential rain battered the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the Ardennes Forest, making it the shortest Formula 1 race in history, and the only one to feature no green flag laps.
The classification was taken after two laps, which were completed over three hours after the scheduled start time, as the relentless heavy rain and mist made visibility unsafe for racing in a region that was recently affected by devastating flooding.
Under Formula 1 regulations half points are awarded if drivers do not reach 75 per cent of the planned distance—in this case 44 laps—but they must complete two laps. Three laps were run under the Safety Car before the red flag was terminally flown, but due to the mechanism of the regulations the results are taken back two laps to the end of lap one. However, half points are still awarded.
Confusing? Slightly. But that’s regulations for you.
It was only the sixth time in Formula 1’s 72-season history that half points were awarded, the first time since 2009, while surpassing the record for the shortest race. That shortest race mark was previously set in Australia, in 1991. That day, 14 of 81 laps were completed, lasting a relatively long 24 minutes, before Adelaide’s streets had seen enough carnage.
Formula 1 tried on Sunday afternoon at Spa, but was beaten by the weather.
“We were all aiming for a window we thought was there, and the teams saw it,” said Formula 1 race director Michael Masi on the decision to run three laps behind the Safety Car instead of any live racing. “There was a weather band where we thought we could get some racing but you know the weather rapidly changes at this venue, we thought we could get something in but the weather deteriorated rapidly so we couldn’t.”
It was the right call not to race given the severely restricted visibility at an old-school circuit that has been the scene of serious accidents. In similarly wet conditions in 1998 a first-lap pile-up eliminated a dozen cars. In 2019 Formula 2 racer Anthoine Hubert was killed when he was struck side-on by an opponent in dry weather. Lando Norris crashed heavily at the blind crest of the Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex in a wet qualifying and required a precautionary hospital visit. There were also serious crashes in support categories Formula 3 and W Series during the weekend too.
“The visibility was so bad in the pack, and we know if we stop on track for whatever reason or crash, many other cars are coming right behind,” said sixth-place finisher Pierre Gasly, who earlier in the weekend laid flowers where close friend Hubert was killed. “We know the consequences if a car gets T-boned.”
Added fourth-placed Daniel Ricciardo: “It is just simple physics but the car just won’t stick, it won’t stay on the road. And that is with 100 percent visibility, let alone with literally 5 per cent. It gets to a threshold where it is no longer about skill, it is literally about the car not sticking to the track.”
But despite consensus that not racing was the right call several drivers were angry at the manner how the afternoon played out. Getting in a result that satisfied the regulations, however short, meant that a box-ticking exercise had been completed. For commercial purposes, the history books will show that the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was a race.
“There was no point at which we could race so there wasn’t a race, but there is a rule that says for it to be a legal race, it has to be—I think—a minimum of two laps so they knew that and they sent us out for two laps behind the safety car and that activates a bunch of things, said World Champion Lewis Hamilton. “And I don’t know all the politics and the background but my most concern is that the fans should probably get their money back, I think, and I don’t know if by doing the two laps it means they don’t and that’s… I just don’t think that’s what we want. We have better values than that as a sport.”
That claim was countered by Formula 1’s boss.
“At the end of the day, that’s covered,” said Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, referring to suggestions that its commercial arrangements with Spa-Francorchamps would have been affected without any laps run. “That’s why when I hear that there was some commercial discussion behind that, it’s totally not true. When we are talking about racing there is a responsibility and a clear process and these things are not connected at all.”
Masi emphasised that commercial factors “would never be part of my consideration” when determining track conditions. “None. Zero. Never,” he stressed.
Half points were nonetheless awarded; Verstappen took 12.5 for first, Hamilton 7.5 for third, reducing the gap between them to three points in Hamilton’s favor. Next up is next Sunday at Verstappen territory at Zandvoort, which is a track returning to Formula 1’s schedule for the first time in 36 years.
F1 Belgian Grand Prix
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