|It is always easier to pick on decision-makers and to allocate blame on them when uncomfortable scenarios arise. This was the case with the Belgian Grand Prix fiasco. How much blame do they have?
Just two years ago Anthoine Hubert (FRA) perished after an accident at Spa-Francorchamp’s Raidillon corner. He crashed, bounced back to the track and was hit by another competitor.
That was under dry conditions. Drivers said that they could not see the car ahead when they were taken off to the track. Formula 1 did the right thing not to allow them to race under those conditions in order to prevent a tragedy.
Officials waited for over two hours to wait for the weather conditions to improve, only to bring the cars out for three laps behind the safety car and then call it a day, for the shortest F1 race of all time. Since less than 75% of the planned race was completed then half points were given.
The decision was standard and followed protocol. Decision-makers have three hours to make the decision. Some people are upset because we had to wait for over two hours only to see a carousel.
Of course, the audience’s time is valuable, but it is fair to try to wait the rainy conditions out. Meteorological predictions often fail and the least that can be done for those at the grandstands is to wait just in case they can eventually race.
Awarding a podium and half points is also fair. It is understandable that a lot of people do not see three laps behind a pace car as a race and thus think the podiums for race winner Max Verstappen (NED, Red Bull), George Russel (ENG, Williams) and Lewis Hamilton (ENG, Mercedes) are not deserved.
The race is the most important part of a Grand Prix but it is not the only one. Qualifying plays an important role. More so in certain tracks. Monte Carlo, Catalunya and Hungaroring offer few opportunities for passing, for example, and the importance of that session is exacerbated. So is the case when there are safety cars. Or indeed when a race is rained out.
This year’s Belgian Grand Prix result is no the reflection of a better race but is also the reflection of two very important elements of Formula 1 racing: keeping the car on the track -Sergio Pérez (MEX, Red Bull) could not do it and crashed before the start, for example- and secondly, speed. The fastest man won, followed by the second fastest, a spectacular George Russell that over-delivered in his Williams to give the team its first podium since 2017. This was a deserved podium.
Now, the obvious solution for this situation would have been to hold the race one day later, on Monday. Formula 1 has done it in the past and it is not uncommon in other series, especially when oval races are rained out. The main issue here that prevented it seems to be that volunteers had conventional jobs on Monday which would have prevented them from officiating on Monday, rendering it impossible.
Moving forward, Formula 1 should consider paying volunteers – who in the end are working and exposing their lives – in order to prevent a situation like this one, and also because it is fair. This is not the fault of Formula 1 Race Director Michael Masi, but rather an institutionalized practice inherited from decades ago.
Where people are probably right to be upset is with the refunds. World Champion Lewis Hamilton (ENG, Mercedes) pointed out that this was a “money scenario” and that there is “one reason” why this all happened, seemingly alluding to the fact that the race was counted as official in order to prevent spectators from requesting refunds.
Formula 1 should have also given partial refunds or refunds for next year. They acknowledge that a full race did not happen -hence awarding half points-.
At the same time obviously there were expenditures made at the track, support race that were held, and the off-track activities and entertainment that are slo part of a Grand Prix beyond the race itself.
People have to be paid for the on-track jobs as well. This probably makes a full refund not feasible, but there has to be some acknowledgement of the fact that people did not get the full money’s worth.
With climate change making meteorological conditions more unpredictable and disasters every day more rampant, Formula 1 needs to acknowledge that this situation will continue to be present in the future. And they have to implement sporting, safety, human and financial systems to prevent another three-lap race in the future.
A three-lap race was not a good sporting outcome. Cancelling the track due to lack of safety means there are safety faults in the first place. Not having volunteers is a Human Resources mistake and the refunds are either possible or not possible financially.
Both of them mean that the financial decision is not found -either for lack of prevention or for a bad practice. But the on-track standard was followed and fair.