HOW TO SUM UP SUNDAY IN ONE IMAGE
Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
One of only four circuits remaining from the inaugural World Championship in 1950, alongside Silverstone, Monaco and Monza, the fabled Spa-Francorchamps is the longest track on the current Formula One calendar at 7.004km, which also means the Belgian Grand Prix has the fewest laps of any Grand Prix on the calendar with 44.
Thanks to its length and it’s location in the heart of the Ardennes Forest, Spa is renowned for throwing up unpredictable weather, which usually results in Sector 1 being smashed by rain, due to it being at the highest point of elevation on the track (474m), while the circuit from the downhill Pouhon corner & onwards is drier by comparison, not too dissimilar to the old Hockenheimring, which ran through the Black Forest in Germany.
It turned out we’d get unpredictable weather this weekend….. it just didn’t go away.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 12: Spending 4 hours watching the TV waiting for a Formula One race to not get a Formula One race
After the end of the summer break following the carnage at the Hungaroring that ended with Esteban Ocon and Alpine claiming their maiden wins, the disqualification of Sebastian Vettel from 2nd, and Lewis Hamilton + Mercedes taking the championship lead, the second half of the Formula One World Championship commenced at the traditional resumption place of Spa-Francorchamps in the heart of the Ardennes Forest, one of only four tracks from the inaugural World Championship in 1950 that remains on the current calendar, alongside Silverstone, Monaco and Monza.
Staying on the calendar front, the season has been cut down to 22 races with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka formally cancelled during the break, which sadly means Honda won’t get to say goodbye to the Japanese fans at their home track, with a host of races changing dates, assuming they go ahead:
- The Turkish GP, which was originally the replacement for Canada and Singapore, has been pushed back to October 10
- The US Grand Prix at Austin remains in it’s original slot of October 24, albeit as a standalone race.
- Mexico City will lead a triple-header from November 7, with Sao Paulo on November 14, and the front-runner for the yet to be decided location for November 21 is the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, which is the traditional season opener for the MotoGP World Championship.
- The new Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah is set for December 5, and the season ends at the revised Abu Dhabi on December 12.
On the milestone front, it was Mark Webber’s 45th birthday this week, while more importantly, this weekend marked 30 years since Michael Schumacher made his Formula 1 debut in the 7up Jordan 191, an occasion that son Mick celebrated by designing his helmet to match Michael’s from his debut event 30 years ago:
Hopefully he’d make it past Lap 1, something his dad didn’t get to do after his clutch gave up.
Speaking of Michael, the race would be held 17 years to the day that he won his 7th World Championship, and it was also the 20th anniversary of his 52nd Grand Prix win, overtaking Alain Prost for the all-time record, which he ultimately set at 91 until Lewis Hamilton broke it last year, although the 2001 race was perhaps better remembered for the enormous accident involving Eddie Irvine and Luciano Burti at Blanchimont on Lap 5, which Burti was able to survive and recover from, although he would never race in Formula One again:
More importantly for this report, it was the 200th Grand Prix appearance for Duncraig Daniel Ricciardo, becoming the 19th driver in history to reach 200 races, and by starting the race, Ricciardo became only the third driver in history to start in 200 consecutive races!
World Champions and former teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are the only other drivers to record a double century of consecutive starts, and the common theme through all 3 drivers is that they’ve never recorded a ‘Did Not Start’ in their careers.
Although, it should be noted that while Hamilton has now started & entered 278 races, his consecutive start streak ended at 265 when he missed last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix due to a positive COVID test, and Rosberg started all 206 races in which he entered during his career.
It was also the 50th race for Honda as Red Bull’s engine supplier, and Fernando Alonso tied Rubens Barrichello on 326 Grand Prix appearances, the 2nd-most in history behind Kimi Raikkonen, who made his 344th appearance.
Note: Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll both had 5-place grid penalties for causing incidents at Turn 1 on Lap 1 of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Considering this pretty much turned out to be the race, I may as well report it like it was.
After dry running during Friday practice, in which Kimi Raikkonen hit the pit entry wall and Charles LeClerc and Max Verstappen hit the barriers, the elements opened up on Saturday, with heavy rain falling only 15 minutes before Q1, resulting in the start of qualifying being delayed by 12 minutes due to standing water on the track.
When the session eventually began, the only drivers who went out on intermediate tyres were the Williams pairing of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, a bold move that would light up their entire Qualifying when they comfortably bested the drivers on wet tyres, forcing everyone to change on to the green banded inters, with Lando Norris topping the session, as Antonio Giovinazzi, Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, and Nikita Mazepin were all knocked out.
In Q2, the Mercedes pairing of Hamilton and Bottas very nearly got caught out by the changing weather due to starting Q2 on used Inters, which left them teetering on the edge of the bottom 5, which forced them to use a third set of Inters – For context, the drivers only had 4 sets of Inters and 3 sets of Wets available for the whole weekend.
On a drying track with tumbling lap times, Norris again topped the session from both Mercedes, Pierre Gasly, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Russell and Ocon, and after looking set to miss the Top 10, Daniel Ricciardo squeaked in to 9th place on his final run, which meant the Ferraris of LeClerc and Carlos Sainz both missed out, as did Latifi and Alonso, while Lance Stroll never got a second flying lap in and wound up 15th fastest, with his grid penalty leaving him to start down in 20th
The rain hit hard again right at the start of Q3, and with the Top 10 forced back on to Wet tyres, multiple drivers noted standing water & aquaplaning and the possible need for a red flag, one of whom was the pace-setting Norris, despite the fact that he could seemingly walk on water through Q1 and Q2, and somewhat prophetically, the Brit lost his McLaren after attacking Eau Rouge a bit too quickly in the conditions, and he made hard contact with the tyre barrier at Radillion, causing heavy damage to the McLaren as it entered a violent spin, bringing out the red flag with 9 minutes to go.
Not even a second before that happened, Martin Brundle on Sky F1 had wondered out loud if the McLaren had gone around, as it seemingly took second longer to clear Raidillon than a normal F1 car would.
Sebastian Vettel was another driver who noted the conditions were too unsafe and a red flag was needed, and as Seb did another good guy thing and pulled up to check on Norris to confirm that he was okay, he gave a rather blunt message to the Aston Martin pit wall.
A major shame for Norris, who was looking a good chance of taking his first pole position, but after biting off a bit more than he could chew, he was left to start down in 15th due to replacing his gearbox, although looking at the damage to the McLaren, he was lucky he wasn’t starting from the pit lane.
Norris was also taken to hospital for a precautionary x-ray on his elbow, but was discharged and cleared to race.
While the track was cleared the rain intensified again, and the session wouldn’t resume until 4:45pm local time, some 40 minutes after the crash, which took out any possibility of completing the session on Sunday morning, and several drivers decided to go out on intermediates and let the track come to them, which ultimately proved to be the right decision, and set up a great finish to the session.
After almost 2 hours of rain with a bit of qualifying in between, Lewis Hamilton led the timesheets as time expired in Q3 with everyone on their final flying laps, but the greatest one-lap specialist we’ve ever seen would be left gazumped by GEORGE RUSSELL IN THE WILLIAMS, who was sitting down in 9th and 6 seconds off the pace, before he rocketed up to provisional pole on the back of a purple Sector 1 with a 2.00.086, upstaging Hamilton by a mere 13 hundredths of a second, putting Williams in position to take their first pole position since Austria in 2014!
But it wasn’t quite to be for the sleeping giant of the sport, as Max Verstappen had timed his run perfectly on the drying track, setting the best Sector 2 time of anyone, and to the delight of the horde of Dutch fans that had descended upon Spa, the Dutchman took pole position with a 1.59.765, the only Q3 time below 2 minutes!
Still, Williams did have their first front row start since Lance Stroll at the 2017 Italian Grand Prix, and that double points finish at Hungary appears to have given the team an unquantifiable amount of confidence after going pointless for 2 years, in which time they’d gone through the upheaval of an ownership change and endured quite a few rotten pieces of luck on track.
What a superb lap that was from Russell, especially in a car that is a comparative crap bucket to the Merc and the Red Bull.
Just off the Top 3, much like Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo timed their runs perfectly in the conditions, as Vettel shot up to 3rd with his final lap before settling for 5th on the grid, while Ricciardo, who was 9th, shot up to 4th with the last lap of the entire session, easily his best qualifying performance in this often wretched season with McLaren, and he saved it for his milestone weekend.
Completing the Top 10, Pierre Gasly would start 6th for AlphaTauri, Sergio Perez 7th, Bottas was 8th but would drop to 12th after his penalty (It would’ve been 13th had Norris not crashed), which put Ocon in 8th, Charles LeClerc would move up from 11th to 9th, and Nicholas Latifi would make it both Williams cars in the Top 10.
Now this was the result from qualifying before the grid penalties came into effect:
So once all the grid penalties were applied, after Norris changed his gearbox, the starting grid looked like this:
With all this talk about Mercedes choosing Bottas or Russell, I wonder if George would even want to drive a Mercedes…. It’s clearly the slower car.
Wet races at Spa seemed to be a common theme through the 1990s, but there hadn’t been a wet race in Belgium since 2010, although that would apparently be changing on Sunday afternoon with rain forecast for the entire afternoon, which didn’t stop our own Jack Doohan winning the Formula 3 feature race from pole position, adding to his win in Race 2, and Jack became the first driver in the short history of the Formula 3 Championship to win two races in one weekend!
I’ll be honest, I just wanted to put that in because it’s superb seeing an Aussie win, plus Jack is forging his own path on four wheels and stepping out of the mighty shadow that Mick Doohan left behind on two wheels, and because quite frankly it was better than the farce that was the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Race That Wasn’t (2 Laps)
With the rain belting down in the build-up to 3pm local time, the drama started a good half hour before the race, because Sergio Perez lost the rear at Les Combes on the sighting lap on his way to the grid, hit the barrier and damaged the front suspension, and the Mexican wouldn’t start the race, while Kimi Raikkonen started from the pit lane after changing his rear wing.
I can only think Sergio just didn’t want to get smashed by Bottas at Turn 1 again… can’t blame him, although it cost him the easiest points he’d ever earn.
So with the field seemingly down to 19 cars, once 3pm drew near, Michael Masi at the FIA made the decision to start the race behind Bernd Maylander in the Safety Car, but after the rain intensified, the start was delayed by 10 minutes, which was extended by a further 5 minutes, and another 5 minutes, then to 3:25 local, and in the meantime the hilarity took off as Lewis Hamilton hopped out of his car and went to the toilet, an experience he’ll remember for a while:
Lewis: “I’m glad I went to the toilet. The one I went to, someone had dropped a crazy bomb in there, it was the worst thing ever.”
Bono: “The pros and cons, Lewis.”
Lewis: “It’s going to haunt me for life…””
They said it was a French camerman that did it, but I think it was this guy:
While the rain was one problem, the other problem, which was probably even more annoying, was that the clouds were hovering over the circuit, which severely impacted visibility, and the forecast had rain for least 40 minutes, which would be the equivalent of driving in thick fog.
Speaking of which, has anyone seen this camera operator since Sunday?
Nonetheless, the formation lap took place at 3:25pm, and after that, every lap behind the SC would be a lap struck from the race, and just watching it then, I felt we would be lucky to get 20 laps of clean racing in these conditions, because pretty much every driver couldn’t see a thing, and there was so much standing water and aquaplaning.
Eventually, after two formation laps, the start procedure was aborted and the red flag was brought out, and the 3 hour window for the event had already begun at 3pm, as Michael Masi confirmed to Mercedes, which made it look like we wouldn’t have a race at all.
It was painful to sit through, but if you ever saw the start of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, which was started in conditions that I would argue were worse than Sunday, you’d sort of understand why the FIA were doing this on driver safety grounds.
Meantime, Red Bull were playing a game of ‘Find the loophole’ to get Sergio Perez back into the race, which was broadcast on the world feed as Jonathan Wheatley on the pit wall and Michael Masi engaged in discourse over the radio, with the FIA originally not allowing the Mexican back into the race, as he’d received ‘Outside assistance’ getting back to the pit lane (On the back of a truck), but that rule apparently only counts when the race has started, and when the drivers crossed the start-finish line, there was nothing to signal that the race had begun.
So after discussions with the race stewards, Masi got back to Jonathan Wheatley and gave Red Bull the good news that Perez would be allowed to start the race from the pit lane if the car could be fixed, and apparently one of Red Bull’s arguments was based Article 38.1 of the Sporting Regulations:
Any car which does not complete a reconnaissance lap and reach the grid under its own power will not be permitted to start the race from the grid.
Ah, the rulebook, it’s a race within a race.
Completing this wild storyline, the Red Bull mechanics managed to get a 4 hour job (By Christian Horner’s estimate) done in an hour, but it probably wouldn’t even matter with an hour and 20 minutes to go until the chequered flag was waved, but the FIA overruled their own regulations under force majeure and stopped the clock at 5pm with an hour still to go on the event clock, although there was no chance of getting 75% race distance and full points.
So we had 19 cars at the start of the race, and 20 by the end of it.
Meantime, Lando Norris dreamed about what would’ve happened if he had have taken Eau Rouge a bit more cautiously:
Alan van der Merwe submitted his bid for Driver of the Day:
Daniel Ricciardo started a Mexican Wave:
Carlos Sainz tweeted Hi:
And Haas took on Aston Martin in the 4pm kickoff on Sky, with Haas getting the 3 points, which is more than what they’ve scored this year:
Finally, after 2 and a half hours of waiting, everything shot back to life as an announcement came that the race would resume at 6:17pm local time, in which time Lance Stroll had a new rear wing fitted, which put him under investigation from the stewards and would’ve meant he’d have to start the race from the pit lane like Raikkonen, but they were already in pit lane, which made it even more comical, and Stroll eventually copped a 10 second time penalty.
So the Dutch fans cracked the orange flares and the race was officially underway behind the Safety Car, 2 hours and 52 minutes after the last formation lap, which would be counted as the first lap just to help force a result, but there was more spray than before up at the top of the circuit, and although Sector 3 was better, with the rain not relenting, it was pretty much looking like a case of complete the required 2 laps to get a classification under the regulations, then call the red flag for safety reasons.
And that’s exactly what happened, as the red flag was called with 51 minutes to go after 2 completed laps behind Bernd Maylander, and the race was finally called at 6:44pm local time, bringing a merciful end to this shitshoot of a Sunday, as Honda and Red Bull celebrated their 50th race together with a win from pole for Max Verstappen.
And thus, we now have a new leader for the shortest Grand Prix in Formula 1 history at 1 full completed lap due to the regulations around backdating results, with the race absolutely thumping the previous record of 14 laps from the 1991 Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide, and becoming only the sixth race in F1 history to award half points, and the first since Malaysia in 2009, when Jenson Button won for Brawn GP as a Malaysian monsoon devoured Sepang.
On to the results, and the Belgian-born Verstappen took his 16th Grand Prix victory for better or worse, tying Sir Stirling Moss for the most wins by a non-World Champion driver, George Russell scored his first career podium and first for Williams since Lance Stroll at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, thanks to delivering the Mr Saturday performance of his career, Lewis Hamilton still leads the championship by 3 points, Daniel Ricciardo recorded his best result for McLaren in his 200th start…..
AND, thanks to Checo Perez hitting the wall and losing 7th, this race also marks the first time in F1 history that 8 different Constructors have filled the Top 8 positions – Red Bull, Williams, Mercedes, McLaren, Aston Martin, AlphaTauri, Alpine and Ferrari!
Another double points finish for Williams, and the fastest lap technically went to Nikita Mazepin, which would’ve been the first of his career, but he’ll never get the credit for it as the FIA decided not to award the fastest lap for obvious reasons, and for the 11th time in Grand Prix history, there were no retirements from the race, which is the second time this year that’s happened after the French Grand Prix.
In conclusion, to echo the sentiments of Lewis Hamilton, the people I feel sorry for the most are the fans in Belgium & across Europe who paid a premium to go to Spa on Sunday and had to sit through shithouse weather, just to watch a 10 minute boat race that took almost 4 hours, just so the FIA and FOM could tick a few boxes because a Monday race was logistically impossible….
To call this a race would be an insult to the 2005 US Grand Prix.
On another note, it seems like Sunday was the awful conclusion to a dark summer for Spa-Francorchamps.
Then, the circuit’s executive director Nathalie Maillet was killed by her husband in an alleged double murder-suicide on August 15.
And now the circuit’s blue riband event gets called off after 2 completed laps due to terrible weather.
Top that for crap.
Next up: The return of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort this weekend!