Formula One attracts criticism over decision to run Spa race for two laps behind safety car
“They knew when they sent us out at the end that the track wasn’t any better and they did it just so that we could start two laps behind the safety car, which is the minimum requirement for a race. I really hope the fans get their money back today. I think the sport made a bad choice doing those two laps.”
Lewis Hamilton told Sky F1 what everyone else was thinking after the Belgian Grand Prix washout on Sunday. The so-called ‘race’ consisted of two laps run behind the safety car as the notorious Ardennes threw its worst at Spa-Francorchamps, to make unleashed action an impossibility thanks to a complete lack of visibility. But as Hamilton’s unvarnished “farce” verdict suggested, the show must always go on in a sport where money comes first.
Then again, what a difficult week for F1. The non-Belgian GP couldn’t have come at a worse time for promoter Liberty Media, which had been forced in the run-up to release a hastily rejigged schedule for the rest of the year that is now minus one of the planned 23 races. The pandemic, which has now cost F1 the Japanese GP for a second year in succession, is biting F1 hard exactly where it feels it the most – so giving fans back their money for a race that technically (and cynically) did take place is the last thing Stefano Domenicali and his team at F1 will want to do. Instead, they will wish to sweep this memory away as quickly as possible as the teams heads directly to Zandvoort for the first Dutch GP since 1985.
There were few positive takeaways from Spa, but shining through the gloom was George Russell’s wonderful qualifying performance on Saturday when he stuck his Williams second on the grid, only just pipped to pole position by Max Verstappen, which was automatically converted to a runner-up podium spot the following day. Tricky weather conditions tend to throw up opportunities for rising stars to spring a surprise – remember Rubens Barrichello landing a shock pole position at the same circuit for Jordan back in 1994? – and Russell’s timing to throw in a reminder of his capabilities was particularly sweet. It seems almost certain he will join Hamilton as a Mercedes-AMG driver next year in place of Valtteri Bottas, even if team chief Toto Wolff insists on stringing out the situation. The Austrian has even admitted he’s made his mind up over which he picks. Quite why he has refused to go public and end what is becoming a drawn-out saga once and for all isn’t entirely clear.
The other talking point of an unsettled F1 weekend was the uncomfortable spotlight that fell on Eau Rouge and Raidillon, perhaps the most celebrated piece of race track in the world. Lando Norris was the latest to escape a heavy accident at the swooping uphill sequence on Saturday, just after Sebastian Vettel had warned that conditions were lethal, and a day after six drivers in the F1 supporting W Series experienced a terrifying pile-up as sudden rain caught them out. No one wants to dilute Eau Rouge – of course they don’t – but drivers are demanding an improvement on safety and it would be wrong to ignore them.
Much like F1’s decision to run a ‘race’ on Sunday, there was an inconvenient truth that’s impossible to avoid: doing the right thing is often the hardest thing too.
W Series 2022 season preview: series returns to champion female racers
Fun facts: Autocar’s miscellany of motoring 2019
Formula One circuit guide 2021