2021 Belgian Grand Prix Halted Under Rain, Half Points Awarded
Drivers criticize how the situation was handled
The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was the first race in Formula 1 history to feature zero laps under green flag conditions. Max Verstappen, who started on pole, took his 16th career win by doing little more than follow the safety car for three laps.
George Russell, who had started second thanks to changing weather conditions during Saturday qualifying, registered his first podium. And just like Verstappen and Russell, virtually everyone else was classified as having finished the race in the same position they started it, having done no actual racing whatsoever. The entire proceedings took about four hours.
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The race was first delayed for half an hour before an initial attempt was made to start it. The track was deemed too wet and the drivers returned to the pits to wait out the rain. After nearly three hours, already well past the time the race was originally scheduled to have ended, the rain was only getting worse and it became alarmingly clear there may not be a race at all.
Per the regulations, half points are awarded if drivers fail to reach at least 75 percent of the planned race distance. But for a race to even be counted in the first place, the race leader must complete more than two laps, not including the formation lap. So, around the 3.5-hour mark, race officials sent the drivers back out to do two laps behind the safety car, just enough to be able to technically call this disaster of an event an official championship grand prix.
Sergio Pérez, who had crashed his Red Bull Racing-Honda car on his way to the grid, originally wasn’t going to partake in the race. But there was so much downtime that the team managed to fix his car before the second start, enabling him to participate again. Thanks to this, the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was technically the 17th race in F1 history to feature no retirements.
“Of course it’s a win but not how you want to win,” Verstappen commented afterward. “I think for today the credit goes to all the fans around the track to stay here the whole day in the rain, in the cold, in the windy conditions, so I think they are actually the bigger winners today.”
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Even though he won the race, Verstappen may not be happy with the results, as he had a good chance of winning it the normal way. Had he done so even with rival Lewis Hamilton finishing second instead of third, he would have reduced his point deficit by seven points instead of five.
Hamilton, for his part, also praised the fans and said he hoped they got their money back. He later called the race a “farce” in an Instagram post, stating the drivers were sent out for those two laps for “one reason and one reason only” — money.
With those two laps having been completed, F1 could claim the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix technically took place and get out of legally having to refund tickets, which run as high as $300 for general admission. F1 may have also needed to officially hold a race to fulfill its contractual obligations with commercial broadcasters.
“Two laps behind a safety car where there is no possibility to gain or lose a place or provide entertainment to fans isn’t racing,” Hamilton added. “We should have just called it quits, not risked the drivers and most importantly refunded the fans who are the heart of our sport.”
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Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was similarly critical. When informed by his race engineer that race control had directed the drivers to go out the second time, he pointed out the decision made no sense because the rain had only gotten worse. “What’s the difference now?” he asked. “Nothing…I guess the TV money is the difference.”
When his engineer responded, tongue in cheek, that the “race director is happy to hear your comments,” Vettel retorted: “Well I can’t pay him the same amount as the TV guys.” After the grand prix, he would go on to say that while he agreed the conditions were too unsafe for the race to take place, he considered it “a bit of a joke” that points were awarded — a sentiment echoed by fellow driver Pierre Gasly, who finished right behind Vettel.
“I don’t feel like I deserved any points today for what I’ve done,” Gasly said. “I just followed the safety car. I didn’t crash in the laps to the grid, but that’s the only thing I’ve done today. But at the end of the day this is not really the point — I feel really bad for all the people that came here, traveled, waited hours under the rain to watch an F1 race, and the only thing they got to see is a couple of laps from the safety car and F1 cars following.”
“Really sorry for all those people and yeah, unfortunately, I don’t think there was any other option possible because the visibility was so bad in the pack,” Gasly continued. “We know the consequences if a car gets T-boned. Unfortunately, I don’t think there was any other option. I’m a bit surprised, to be fair, because I just feel they just put us out on track in the worst conditions just to allow these points to happen.”
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.