The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps will go down in history as it set a record for the shortest ever Formula One race with only three official laps completed. Both behind the safety car. The total official race distance – 6.880 kilometers which is based on the countback rule when races are red flagged.
With rain continuously falling from the heavens that afternoon making visibility on the track near zero, the scheduled 3 p.m. start was delayed successively. By 3:25 p.m. the Safety Car led the pack over one complete lap which signified the start of the race.
Three hours had passed until the cars were once again allowed to enter the track at 6:17 p.m., still behind the Safety Car, in what race officials thought to be a window from the downpour. But alas, Mother Nature had the upper hand and the incessant rains and lack of visibility led to the eventual red flagging of the race after two more laps were completed.
Half-points were awarded to the first 10 drivers that started on the grid because the race was done below 75% distance. And given there was no overtaking, or should we say no racing at all, Max Verstappen was awarded the first place trophy. George Russel, by virtue of his spectacular qualifying performance the day before which took him to P2 on the grid, got his first podium finish in second place. While Verstappen’s championship rival, 7-time World Driver’s Champion Lewis Hamilton, had to settle for third place.
This debacle of an “event” was probably the first time Formula One experienced a rained out Sunday. Next to the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix where only six Bridgestone-shod cars started on the grid as the Michelin-backed teams decided not to run because of their unsafe tires, the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix has got to be the worst show the sport has ever run.
In both cases, the fans were robbed of the spectacle that Formula One promised to them. But for the fans at Spa, the non-stop rain and cold weather made it all the more miserable.
As a fan of the sport, waiting until the wee hours of the morning to catch an F1 race halfway around the world is normal to me. The early Monday morning broadcast of races in the Americas in particular are always a pain to watch especially if one has to go to work later that day. But this is nothing compared to fans getting royally soaked in the rain. Patiently waiting for the races to commence and for their racing heroes to do battle on the track, these fans’ dedication to the sport is legendary. Not to mention the expensive F1 weekend tickets they already forked hard-earned money for, almost a good P20,000 equivalent in some tracks, is no joke.
While Formula One is now faced with some introspection as it deals with the repercussions of this non-race race, we fans also got to learn a thing or two from this unsavory experience. If you were one of those watching the Belgian Grand Prix from home this Sunday night, these eureka moments may have crossed your mind.
Qualifying is worth watching again
Many fans forgo watching the qualifying sessions on Saturday and just wait for the race on Sunday to satisfy their F1 fix. Because of this year’s atrocious Spa weekend which gave Williams driver George Russel a shot at pole position and the eventual P2 start that led to his second place finish, qualifying now has some sense to the casual fan.
Drivers always say, “There are no points in qualifying,” especially if they do not land a high enough position on the grid. But after Spa, when the possibility that a driver’s last run in anger might be his qualifying hot lap became real, then it would make sense for fans to invest more time on Saturdays to catch the boys in action.
Be careful of what you wish for
There have been many races in F1 history when rain became the deciding factor of their outcome. That is why fans always secretly wish for rain to spice up a dull race. This year in Spa, however, the fans got a limitless supply of just that on Sunday. And the result? Well, let’s just say that F1 cars do not perform at their best over puddles, floods, and misty fog.
As an outdoor event, F1 will always be at the mercy of the weather. Next time we ask for rain, let us stipulate that a race can still be held.
Commentators can only talk for so long
If you get your coverage from Sky F1, chances are the voices of David Croft and Martin Brundle are what you hear during the race. While they are seasoned veterans of the sport, Crofty has been doing race commentary since 2012 and Brundle was a former F1 driver himself, they can only blurt out so much sweet nothings if there is no race happening.
Last Sunday was particularly painful for the duo, and more so the fans, as three hours passed by with the commentators talking about the rain soaking the track, the medical car doing exploratory laps, drivers dozing off or playing futsal in their garages, or the track maintenance truck clearing water from the road.
Perhaps it should be mandatory for the broadcast producers to dig up old race footage from years past, especially ones that are similar to the projected condition of the track on race day. At least we fans watching on TV can still have that warm feeling of nostalgia to tie us down as we wait.
Safety Car sponsorship pays off
One of the biggest winners in terms of exposure on F1 this Sunday was Mercedes-Benz. As fans were treated with senseless laps of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Estate Medical Car over the three hours, along with the Mercedes-AMG GT R Safety Car leading the track during the formation laps, the German brand sure got their money’s worth this weekend.
Add to that the green Mercedes-Benz maintenance truck that was shown clearing water from the track in futile fashion and it was just amazing publicity for Stuttgart. Too bad the extra airtime didn’t count for points in the Constructors Championship.
Fans deserve better
Whenever the Formula One circus travels to a host country, the race and event promoter is tasked not only to ensure that fans are given ease of access to the venue but also treated to a satisfying and fulfilling weekend of racing entertainment.
F1 tickets are not cheap and that is partly because the promoter has to recoup the licensing cost imposed by F1. This year’s Belgian Grand Prix proved yet again that the F1 show must go on, despite the questionable quality of its outcome. Clearly, every fan in the wet grandstands at Spa, or at home who waited for the race to start way past midnight, feels that he has been shortchanged.
Some drivers have even called for giving fans who went to Spa a refund. Or that points should not have been awarded at all. Whatever move it makes, the sport must have contingencies in place in the future to appease its fans on and off the track in case something like this were to occur again.
The ongoing pandemic has made sports and entertainment a viable escape from the harshness of reality. We are desperate to experience normality again. And seeing events like Formula One happen with grandstands full of warm bodies gives us all something to look forward to. Let us hope that the misfortune for fans this weekend will be the last for a long while.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.