The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix will go down in history as Formula 1‘s shortest ever race, and also as a leading contender for most farcical.
Just calling it a race takes a mighty stretch of the imagination – a delay of more than three hours followed by a few processional laps behind the safety car in heavy spray and no overtaking.
Officially, the action lasted all of three minutes and 27 seconds with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen the winner — a result effectively decided in Saturday’s qualifying. Half points were then handed out for only the sixth time ever.
“If you want to get a reward for qualifying you should get points for qualifying,” said Aston Martin’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who finished 10th, asked: “If there were actually no race laps, no competition, why should points be given and any result be given because there was basically no race. I didn’t race, so I didn’t deserve the half a point I got, so I don’t know why I got it.”
The rules say at least two laps are necessary for a race to become official and half points awarded but Sunday’s solution came across as a cynical box-ticking exercise to some and plain wrong to others.
The champagne was sprayed but, apart from George Russell appearing on the podium for the first time for Williams with second place, there was little to celebrate.
Seven-times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished third, said the fans had been robbed and should get their money back. He later took to Instagram to call it a ‘farce’ and added: “We should have just called it quits.”
McLaren boss Zak Brown called for the rules to be overhauled to prevent such a situation happening again: “We wanted to race, our drivers wanted to race and of course we know you wanted to see a race. And that’s not what you saw, that’s not what we participated in.
“The regulations state that after you do a few laps it can be called a race. I think that needs to be reviewed… 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…I don’t think anyone would say today it felt right calling that a race,” added Brown.
Comparisons were drawn to the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, where only six cars started after Michelin-shod cars withdrew for safety reasons and went on to score full points.
That at least went the distance, and overtaking was possible — at least in theory although Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher was never threatened by teammate Rubens Barrichello and they were in a different league to the Minardis and Jordans.
On Sunday there never seemed any question of the Belgian Grand Prix happening, said Hamilton: “They knew when they sent us out at the end there that the track wasn’t any better and they did it just so we could start two laps behind the safety car. There was no point at which we could race so there wasn’t a race.”
FIA race director Michael Masi insisted commercial factors would never play a part in any decision regarding track conditions or racing, a point reinforced by Formula 1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali: “Two laps or zero laps, it doesn’t make a difference in that respect. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)