F1 to review rules after criticism of Belgian GP ‘race’ behind safety car

Formula One is to instigate urgent discussions to prevent a repeat of the scenario under which the Belgian Grand Prix was declared a race after only three laps behind the safety car in heavy rain.

There were scathing attacks after Sunday’s events, including from Lewis Hamilton, who described it as a farce, driven by financial considerations, and demanded that the fans should be refunded. F1 has since insisted financial expediency was not behind the decision. Nonetheless, other senior figures in the sport have declared F1 must consider alternative options when races are threatened by bad weather.

The race at Spa-Francorchamps had initially been delayed by more than three hours as heavy rain made standing water and visibility too treacherous for racing. Then, despite the conditions having not improved, the governing body, the FIA, declared the race could begin. The cars duly emerged from the pit lane and completed three laps behind the safety car.

They completed the mandatory two laps for the event to be counted as a race and for half points to be awarded. The top finishing order remained exactly as it had been decided in qualifying. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was in first place, from Williams’ George Russell and the Mercedes of Hamilton in third.

The McLaren chief executive, Zak Brown, was forthright in his opinion that F1 had to act to prevent a repeat of events that had tarnished the sport’s image. “The regulations state after you do a few laps it can be called a race and that needs to be reviewed,” he said. “I don’t think there is anyone that would argue the weather was safe to race in but we need a better solution as a sport. When that type of situation happens the outcome should not be a race after three laps behind a safety car.

“That needs to be reviewed by all of us to learn from Sunday and realise if we are given this type of situation what we would do differently to make sure everyone gets their race in, whether that is the following day, or it comes back. It is complicated with the schedule but I don’t think anyone would say it felt right, calling that a race.”

The FIA race director, Michael Masi, said the governing body had followed their safety regulations and that the laps completed behind the safety car were to see what the conditions were like, adding they were hopeful there would be a window in the weather.

However, Masi believes F1, the FIA and the teams will meet shortly to address alternative options in future. “After this weekend and at our next meeting for next year we’ll look at a whole lot of things, to see what everyone wants,” he said. “We are at one of those points that the FIA works with all 10 teams and F1 to develop the regulations. So we will go through all of the various scenarios and see what everyone thinks.”

He also stated that despite other racing organisations such as Indycar and Nascar having postponed and then held races on a Monday, F1 could not do so at Spa for a range of reasons. Rescheduling for Monday would require agreement from F1, all the teams, the FIA and the race promoter.

Logistically, it would have been extraordinarily complex; not least from a safety perspective in ensuring that all the marshals, who are volunteers, could return on what is a normal working day. There is also the issue of transport, flights and equipment and crew all booked into a tight schedule to get the teams to the next round, this weekend at Zaandvoort in the Netherlands. It would also be expensive to rearrange.

F1’s chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, meanwhile rejected Hamilton’s allegation that, despite only the minimum laps required to classify it as a race being completed, it was done to meet obligations to broadcasters, sponsors and ticket holders that would otherwise be entitled to financial recompense.

“When I hear that there was some commercial discussion behind that, it’s totally not true,” he said. “When we’re talking about racing, there is responsibility, that is a clear process.”

He insisted that F1 would have received its race fee without the required laps happening and supported the decision made by the FIA in stopping and then restarting the race albeit briefly.

On Sunday the race promoters had no plan nor precedent for any scenario where a race had effectively not occurred. It is understood they may now have entered discussions with F1 to consider how potentially to recompense fans.

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