Formula One completed the shortest race in the sport’s history at the Belgian Grand Prix. After just three laps and eight minutes, all behind the safety car at Spa-Francorchamps, Max Verstappen was declared the winner for Red Bull with George Russell bringing in second for Williams and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in third.
However in what must count as a completely farcical determination by F1 to declare a result come what may, none of the drivers actually did any racing. With persistent rain all morning that the track was very wet and the start was initially delayed four times by 25 minutes and then after two formation laps behind the safety car the conditions were adjudged too bad to continue and the start was formally suspended. The rain promptly only began to fall harder.
After a delay of three hours and 17 minutes and despite the rain not apparently being significantly lighter the race was deemed fit to start with the cars leaving the pit lane behind the safety car, with potentially one hour of racing remaining but having completed the mandatory two laps that meant a race result could be declared and half points awarded the race was stopped once more and a mere 20 minutes later declared finished.
In a mere eight minutes of “racing” the order was decided exactly as it had been in qualifying. For George Russell who had put his car brilliantly into second on Saturday this was his first F1 podium but doubtless not how he imagined taking it. It means Hamilton’s championship lead over Verstappen has been cut to three points.
There had appeared to be almost a desperation to try and conclude some form of result. The FIA regulations state that the maximum time within which the race can take place is three hours. The clock began counting down when the race was scheduled to start at 3pm.
However at 5pm the FIA announced that they had stopped the clock citing “Force Majeure” bringing into question if they were able to do so, why they had instigated a three hour race limit in the first place. In the end with their two laps done F1, the FIA and the promoter can declare that technically the race had taken place and therefore have met obligations to broadcasters, and ticket holders.
Hamilton was dismissive of what had taken place saying: “I really hope the fans get their money back [van] today.”
The conditions were very poor, with rain, mist and standing water there must have been consideration of the accidents that have taken place in wet conditions through the Eau Rouge-Raidillon corner sequence this weekend. On Saturday in qualifying Lando Norris had a major accident at the corner in similar conditions. On Friday the W Series had a six car pile-up at the same spot in the wet and several weeks earlier the Williams development driver Jack Aitken suffered severe injuries after a major accident there in the Spa 24 Hours.
In 2019 Anthoine Hubert was killed and Juan Manuel Correa suffered serious injury in an accident at the top of the hill at Raidillon. The barriers and run-off of the corner is set to be reconfigured next year but it seems in these circumstances the particular danger it presented was exacerbated by the treacherous driving conditions.
There was also a general consensus across the paddock that the conditions were unsuitable to go racing. Verstappen had said he believed it was ok to start during the two formation laps but the majority of drivers reported that they lacked grip and visibility made it untenable. Norris reported he was aquaplaning and Hamilton posted on social media: “This rain just won’t let up. It’s far too dangerous for us to go out. Puts everyone at risk. Safety has to come first”.
The Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was unequivocal that it had been the right decision. “I have the same information as everybody else and in my personal opinion if it continues like this you can’t start," hy het gesê. “It’s just too dangerous, through Raidillon, Eau Rouge and up the straight. From the second or third car you have next to no visibility. As much as I love racing and I love also the risk of racing, this is a step too far.”
Mattia Binotto the Ferrari team principal concurred. “It is most important that if we start, we start in safe conditions,” he said as the teams sheltered from the rain in the paddock “It is important for the drivers to know that we are starting in safe conditions.”
No F1 race has been abandoned before the start in the 71 year history of the championship and F1 did just enough to avoid that. The Malaysian GP in 2009 was called off after 31 van die 56 laps because of torrential rain and the Australian GP in 1991 in Adelaide was stopped, again because of rain, after just 16 of the planned 81 rondtes.
There were 75,000 fans, approximately half the circuit’s capacity in attendance and they had stuck out the day in temperatures no higher than 13c and in wind and rain that had been persistent and chilling since first thing in the morning. They did so with good cheer and perhaps deserved more than this weak fare being declared a race.