Sunday’s rainswept Belgian Grand Prix will go down in history as Formula One’s shortest ever race, and also as a leading contender for most farcical.
Just calling it a race takes a mighty stretch of the imagination – a delay of more than three hours with crowds enduring cold and rain to see a few processional laps behind the safety car in heavy spray and no overtaking.
Officially, the action lasted all of three minutes and 27 seconds with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen the winner – a result effectively decided in Saturday’s qualifying.
Half points were then handed out for only the sixth time ever.
“If you want to get a reward for qualifying, you should get points for qualifying,” said Aston Martin’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
“If there were actually no race laps, no competition, why should points be given and any result be given? Because there was basically no race,” asked Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who finished 10th.
“I didn’t race, so I didn’t deserve the half a point I got, so I don’t know why I got it.”
The rules say at least two laps are necessary for a race to become official and half points awarded but Sunday’s solution came across as a cynical box-ticking exercise to some and plain wrong to others.
The champagne was sprayed but, apart from George Russell appearing on the podium for the first time for Williams with second place, there was little to celebrate.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished third, said the fans had been robbed and should get their money back.
He later took to Instagram to call it a “farce.”
“We should have just called it quits,” he added.
‘We need a better solution’
McLaren boss Zak Brown called for the rules to be overhauled to prevent such a situation happening again.
“We wanted to race, our drivers wanted to race and, of course, we know you wanted to see a race,” Brown told fans in a video posted on Twitter. “And that’s not what you saw, that’s not what we participated in.
“The regulations state that after you do a few laps it can be called a race. I think that needs to be reviewed … we need a better solution as a sport when that type of situation happens,” he added.
“The outcome should not be a race after three laps behind a safety car … I don’t think anyone would say today it felt right calling that a race.”
Comparisons were drawn to the 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, where only six cars started after Michelin-shod cars withdrew for safety reasons and went on to score full points.
That, at least, went the distance, and overtaking was possible – at least in theory, although Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher was never threatened by teammate Rubens Barrichello and they were in a different league to the Minardis and Jordans.
On Sunday, there never seemed any question of racing, given there was poor visibility due to the weather conditions and no sign of improvement.
“They knew when they sent us out at the end there that the track wasn’t any better and they did it just so we could start two laps behind the safety car,” said Hamilton.
“There was no point at which we could race, so there wasn’t a race.”
FIA race director Michael Masi insisted commercial factors would never play a part in any decision regarding track conditions or racing.
He said also that postponement to Monday had not been an option, with the Dutch Grand Prix following next weekend, and insisted there had been a hope the race might start.
Any commercial motives were also rejected by Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali.
“There was really the will to do the race,” said the Italian. “But the problem is that the weather started to be even worse … So it’s not really commercial on that, I can guarantee you.”