Following a farcical 2021 Belgian GP, there are certainly plenty of questions for Formula One to analyse so just how can F1 avoid a repeat of the farce at Spa Francorchamps?
Heavy rainfall throughout race day resulted in the abandonment of 2021 Belgian Grand Prix in farcical scenes, having aborted the original start after two formation laps before running a three lap race behind the Safety Car just to get two laps banked for an official classification without proper racing.
Further embarrassment endured with the awarding of points and a podium ceremony despite no actual racing on track, which left fans furious couldn’t claim refunds due to a race having technically taken place albeit under Safety Car.
On that note, here are four points which F1 and FIA need to analyse and learn from in order to avoid future farces on this scale.
Proactive in Weekend Schedule Planning
Sunday’s wash-out wasn’t unexpected after several days of poor weather forecasts which begs the question of why FIA Race Director, Michael Masi and race stewards weren’t proactive in looking to change the weekend schedule in order to allow a maximum race window for the F1 race to go ahead.
Add in the fact that this is Circuit Spa Francorchamps which has a history of torrentially rain soaked races, then you really do have to wonder whether there could of rejigged the weekend schedule despite having F3, Porsche SuperCup and W Series as support races.
On closer inspection, there was a 140 minute gap on race day between the conclusion of the Porsche SuperCup race and the scheduled start of the F1 race, yet nobody thought to bring F1 forward by a hour or even 90 minutes to strengthen the prospect of finding a small window for green-flag racing.
Another realistic option could of been to have brought the race forward to lunchtime in a swap with Porsche SuperCup, which could of easily been held after the F1 race if completed in good time given that the latter only runs to a 35 minute time limit anyway.
Admittedly there are TV broadcasters and advertisers to consider but with advanced planning and notice of at least 24 hours, an earlier start could of been possible in theory yet F1 organisers decided to play Russian roulette with mother nature and lost with a damaged reputation to boot.
As for the logistical issues of racing on the Monday, surely there should be a back-up plan in place to enable this scenario to be activated if absolutely required which wouldn’t be issue if the race was a standalone or the last race of a double or triple header.
In this instant though, Belgium formed the first of a triple-header which made a Monday race logistically impossible due to the need to pack up and transport teams to Zandvoort, Netherlands, for next weekend’s Dutch GP, whilst marshals are largely volunteers with many returning to work tomorrow.
It would therefore make sense to draw up a precautionary Monday plan for use if necessary in future along with a rejigging procedure for the following race, which could easily look like 2020 Emilia Rogma GP weekend format with a single practice session and Qualifying on the Saturday and race on Sunday.
Either way, there is very little excuses for the farcical handling of this year’s Belgian GP because there were numerous weather warnings in preceding days, rather than a sudden torrential never-ending barrage of heavy rain.
Don’t Undermine Paying Fans
Although debateable due to the risks associated with attending Grands Prix in that the event can be cancelled even at short notice, Masi did the fans in attendance a real disservice with three laps under the Safety Car before red flagging and abandoning the race on top of awarding half-points.
Fans though were the biggest losers of the day because they paid out for expensive tickets to attend the race, yet were served just five laps in total if combine the two formation laps and three race laps of which all ran under the Safety Car.
Now that is very harsh on spectators and even the drivers because two proper laps under the race timing clock were needed for an official result, which meant the latter three laps were essentially done just to avoid risk of refunding fans despite putting drivers at needless risk just for financial greed.
I therefore do feel for the crowds because their passion has been undermined and abused by Masi and stewards, who chose to prioritise the avoidance of refunds above protecting fans’ expectations who left with no actual green-flag racing witnessed unless arrived early for F3 and Porsche SuperCup races.
Terms of sale concerning race tickets though states that refunds cannot be given in the event of force majeure, which basically covers events beyond the control of the selling parties (Spa GP, FOM & FIA) like rain for example.
The events of this weekend however makes me feel that rain is a weak qualification for force majeure because the torrential rain was forecast since the middle of last week, meaning that there is zero excuses for alternative plans to have been put in place like moving the race earlier in the day.
It however was nice to see several drivers acknowledging the fans who bravely endured the atrocious conditions for no proper returns financially or entertainment wise, with Sebastian Vettel commenting: ” I feel sorry we could not give them the entertainment they deserved to see.”
Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was rightly furious at the ‘farce’ of a race and believes that the event should of been cancelled due to reality of worsening weather, posting on Instagram: ‘We should have just called it quits, not risked the drivers and most importantly refunded the fans who are the heart of our sport.’
It is therefore difficult to ignore the fact that those fans who packed the stands and grass areas to watch the race were simply undermined with no proper racing in return, as if their cash was the only thing that mattered to F1 organisers who thought three laps and official race classification qualified as an event.
Great credit though to those who turned out early for the F3 and Porsche SuperCup races and were rewarded with two great contests, even if the main contest failed to surface which will hopefully lead to a review to terms and conditions of tickets including in cases of cancellation due to force majeure.
Need to Tweak Rules Around Awarding of Points
The decision to award points in a race which has had no proper green-flag racing is simply absurd because the top ten drivers basically were rewarded for driving three laps behind the Safety Car, even though the official classification came after the first lap following a two lap countback at end of lap three.
Although many would argue that this incident highlights just how crucial Qualifying can be if unable to deliver a proper race, it also shows how silly it is to award drivers for completing a race completed solely behind the Safety Car.
In fact, this very scenario unfolded at the 2013 Six Hours of Fuji in World Endurance although 16 laps were completed in that instant, which led to the FIA introducing a new rule in 2014 permitting the scoring of points only once two laps were completed under green flag conditions in order to avoid future repeats.
Yet eight years later and we are back to that farce but this time in F1 and at Spa Francorchamps which is utterly embarrassing, simply because that rule clearly wasn’t applied to all series under the FIA armour otherwise we wouldn’t of had even half-points handed out in Belgium.
On that note, the buck simply has to stop with the FIA for a clear lack of rule enforcement across multiple racing categories within their control.
Either way, FIA and F1 need to take a deep look at themselves and make necessary rule changes to avoid a repeat, because there surely is one step like the required two laps under green flag racing conditions to enable awarding of points rule which can be initiated into the rulebook immediately.
Rulebook Needs Thorough Clarification
Staying on the point concerning rules, it is now clear that there needs to be numerous simplistic clarification tweaks made to the Formula One Sporting Regulations rulebook, following various unclear mind-boggling rules handling throughout yesterday’s event;
- Three hour window began at scheduled race start time despite formation lap delayed 25 minutes which left commentators stumped in bafflement due to lack of clarity, only for that window to be stopped after two hours under force majeure by stewards.
- One lap reduced from race count every time that a delay announcement was made which confused teams, fans and TV broadcasters alike.
- Sergio Perez allowed to enter race despite not even starting formation lap after suffering a crash on way to grid, which even Masi wasn’t sure whether it is permitted in rulebook or not when asked by Red Bull until he discussed their request with Stewards.
- Awarding of points and podium ceremony despite no racing under green flag conditions.
Those listed above were just a few of the various mishandlings of the rulebook which is meant to be detailed to cover various scenarios, yet left even the stewards must of been baffled at times yesterday at how to handle the farce whilst sticking to the rulebook.
Commentators around the world though could do with simplistic clarification of the rulebook because I listened to David Croft and Martin Brundle’s commentary on Sky F1 in UK, yet they struggled at times to make sense of the various rules due to the lack of clarity and both are experienced F1 commentators.
FIA and F1 bosses therefore surely need to take a look at their own rulebook and work out how to make the rules easier to understand across multiple scenarios, especially if to avoid further embarrassment in future given potential for more wet races around the world due to global warming.
Either way, F1 hasn’t covered itself in any glory following the events of Spa Francorchamps, although thankfully there weren’t any serious accidents on the completed laps under the Safety Car.