F1’s wild 2021 season got even wilder after Max Verstappen “won” the rain soaked Belgian “Grand Prix”.
The issue? He completed 3 race laps. How did this happen? Well that is very hard to explain with all the controversial things that happened this weekend.
Let’s start on Saturday. After rain soaked the Belgian circuit, qualifying was delayed by 15 minutes. Q1 and Q2 went fairly processional, with nothing really interesting occurring. Q3 started with rain pounding down, and all 10 drivers called for a red flag after their respective out-laps. But with the FIA not listening, the session went ahead and the drivers were forced to go out and drive in absolutely treacherous conditions. A couple seconds later, Lando Norris lost control of his McLaren up Eau Rouge and had a scary crash. The session was then red flagged. After the red flag, Verstappen claimed pole ahead of the Williams of George Russell and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
On to race day, the Formula 3 and W Series races went forward as planned on Sunday morning, albeit in heavy rain. When it came time for Formula 1, the drama started early with Sergio Perez putting his Red Bull in the wall at the Les Combes chicane, therefore forcing a pit lane start. With 18 cars on the grid and 2 in the pits, the scheduled 3 PM race start approached, only to be met with 4 separate delays amounting to 25 minutes total while race control waited for the weather to improve. It improved enough for a formation lap behind the safety car, but at the end of that lap it was decided that the conditions were not raceable so they continued under the guidance of the safety car. After the second safety car lap, the start procedure was suspended and the red flag was waved. Now’s when the real confusion starts.
There was a fair question being asked around the pit lane, on whether the race had officially started yet. Why is this significant? By rule, all races must be completed within 3 hours including a red flag period and 2 hours not including the red flag period. It was later determined that the race had officially started with the second lap behind the safety car, therefore forcing the 3 hour countdown to begin.
The next 2 hours of waiting around as the rain got heavier were pretty painful to sit through, but we did see some action in the form of a Haas vs Aston Martin game of sock footy, some meme-worthy facial expressions from some F1 drivers, and of course, dancing fans standing in the pouring rain.
With one hour left to complete the race, the FIA stopped the clock at one hour, stating: “This decision is taken on the grounds of Force Majeure.” After another hour of waiting, the rain seemed to lighten so the 10-minute warning was given for F1 cars to get back on track, with a race timer of 1 hour instead of a lap count being used for the restart. Unfortunately, the rain increased during that 10 minute window, sending the cars back out into an even heavier torrential rainstorm. The cars were able to complete 3 laps under the safety car before the final red flag was waved and the race was officially not resumed. Max Verstappen was named the winner, with George Russell taking second for a first F1 podium, and Lewis Hamilton in third.
So why didn’t they cancel the race earlier if they knew the rain was going to get worse? Well most of it can be explained by the fact that the rain was expected to slow after 2-3 hours, giving hope for a restart. But with the circuit deep in the Ardennes Forest, the weather is often unpredictable and therefore, torrential rain persisted throughout the stoppage.
The real controversial thing is the final classified results. By rule, the race leader has to complete a minimum of 2 laps for the results to be classified, and Verstappen technically completed 3 laps around the circuit, meaning that the results would stand. But with 75% of the race distance (33 laps at Belgium) needed to reward full points, only half points were rewarded for only the 7th time in F1 history, and the first time since Malaysia 2009. Not a single competitive lap was contested, but since the safety car laps were calculated into the race distance, it was technically a “race lap”.
This weekend will surely trigger a lot of rule tweaks and revisions, as many gray areas in the rules were touched and the FIA almost had to make it up as it went on. An instance like this is very rare in Formula 1, but it is possible this could happen again in the future, so rule specifications will be needed.
In terms of records, this race holds the longest total race runtime at just over 4 and a half hours, but it was also the shortest race ever in terms of race distance, with only 9 miles ran in total. The previous longest race was Canada 2011, with a runtime of 4 hours and 4 minutes, and the previous shortest was the Australia 1991, with just 14 laps contested due to torrential rain. It looks very likely that this rave would have went on under these conditions at any other track, but due to the nature of the circuit in the mountains and recent safety concerns, visibility was the main issue.
F1 will be back next week for the Dutch Grand Prix.