The summer break has finally come to an end and Formula 1 reopens its doors landing in Belgium, more precisely in the historic circuit of Spa-Francorshamp, for the twelfth round of the season and the first of three consecutive races that will accompany us until the Italian Grand Prix. The week begins with numerous announcements, starting with the renewal for the 2022 season of Fernando Alonso with Alpine.
His teammate, Esteban Ocon, has already signed a long-term contract with the French team - till 2024 - during the weekend of the French Grand Prix and the reconfirmation of the Spanish for the following season will offer the team a dynamic duo of drivers that will provide the right balance between experience and youth. A perfect and potentially functional combination in view of next season and the new regulation, which will introduce many changes especially in terms of aerodynamics and, therefore, in the structure of the new cars. In the words of the Spaniard:
"I am very happy to confirm the extension of the contract with the Alpine F1 Team in 2022. I felt at home from the moment I returned to this team and was welcomed back with open arms. We’re targeting more positive memories for the rest of this season, but also crucially from next year onwards with the new regulation changes coming in Formula 1. I have been a great supporter of the need for a more egalitarian playing field and change in this sport and the 2022 season will be a great opportunity for this. I look forward to the rest of this year and to racing alongside Esteban in 2022 for Alpine".
Alonso is not the only driver to renew his contract ahead of the following season; in fact, also Sergio Perez extends his stay in Red Bull for another year; in this way the Anglo-Austrian team confirms its line-up for 2022, leaving it unchanged. Perez has certainly proved to be a fast and constant driver, on whom to rely. This last aspect will certainly have been relevant for Red Bull in taking its decision, taking into account the ongoing fight with Mercedes on the one hand - that of the Constructors' Championship - and the rivalry between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton - that of the drivers' world championship on the other. The data confirms this: the Mexican driver got a start from the front row only at the second race of the 2021 championship, finishing in the top five for four times in the first five races and finally getting his first victory for the British team in Baku.
"Checo is a highly respected team member and his experience and way of racing are invaluable as we fight for the Constructors' Championship. His integration into the team was smooth, without problems and we were impressed with his performance during the first half of the season, which shows what he is capable of doing with our car".
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner also mentions 2022:
"Next year we enter a new era of Formula 1 with regulations and cars completely revised and, with over 200 races and a decade of experience behind, Checo will play a key role in helping the team navigate this transition and maximize the RB18".
Sergio Perez also talks about his integration into the team and the excellent work they are doing together, declaring that they have great goals starting from this season:
"It always takes time to optimize everything when you join a new team, but things are going well this season and I really like being part of the Red Bull family. We worked hard to get results, so it’s nice to see that the team has confidence in me for the future. We have much more to achieve together and we still have a big challenge on our hands this season so I really hope we can finish the year in the best way and bring this momentum into 2022".
There is still no news about who will join Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes in 2022. Toto Wolff told the media that the decision would be made during the summer. This decision is not insignificant, since it falls on two extraordinary drivers, the young George Russell and the now veteran Valtteri Bottas. The latter remains very vague during the conference on Thursday, when he is asked if there is any news about it:
"There is still no news to share. Maybe I know something, maybe not, but as I said there is no news to share. This situation is not a problem for me, indeed I am used to it. I work with my head down and I am focused for the weekend of Spa. The hat-trick with Zandvoort and Monza is a great challenge to face as a team, this is our main goal. But things will eventually work themselves out".
His words are heartened and also supported by Russell:
"Still no news to share at this point. Of course there have been discussions over the summer holidays, but there is nothing to announce in one way or another this weekend and probably not next weekend, to be honest. Which I think is not a problem. You have to do the right things, rather than hurry. I think we’re both lucky to be considered by Mercedes in this way and we both trust them to take care of our future, one way or another. Speaking for me, there are no real problems if it is tomorrow or after Abu Dhabi".
While the renewals are being celebrated, a few days after the dispute of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and exactly Tuesday, August 3, 2021, Williams fired the reserve driver Dan Ticktum, who had supported, during a streaming on Twitch, while playing at Call of Duty: Warzone, then later denied, that the starting driver, Nicholas Latifi, drove in Formula 1 just for money. In response to a user accusing him of driving in Formula 1 and he didn’t, Ticktum insults him, saying:
"Latifi is older than me, he paid to get there. Retard, fo**uto idio*a. I don’t want people like you in my channel, go out".
And he kicks him out of the chat room.
"I mean, this system is not like leagues; it’s not like League One and the Premier League, where you go up through leaderboards. Just because you don’t make it to Formula 1 doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, you know what I mean...".
Later, Ticktum sings a song against Latifi to the tune of the famous cartoon Scooby-Doo, but modifying a few words:
"Scooby-Doobie Doo Latifi is poo".
In an Instagram story published Thursday, August 3, 2021, at 6:00 p.m, Ticktum will deny the fact that the release is due to comments against Latifi:
"Williams and I split up before Nicholas got involved, just so you know. I thank Williams for the opportunity. I hope we can work together in the future".
A few days later, on August 9, 2021, Alpine removed Rémi Taffin, head of the French team, from the engine manufacturers plan. Taffin, who had achieved the role of Technical Director of the Engine Area in 2016, had spent much of his career with the Transalpine team. He was present when Fernando Alonso won the two world titles in 2005 and 2006. On Tuesday, August 24, 2021, Liberty Media introduces a new award starting from the Belgian Grand Prix, called the Crypto.com Overtake Award, awarded to the driver who is the protagonist of the most overtaking maneuvers made during the season. New television graphics are also introduced, with the addition of real-time data that will indicate all potential overtaking in favor of a given pilot. A combination also highlighted by Steve Kalifowitz, marketing director of the cryptocurrency trading site:
"We are extremely honored to announce the first trophy of its kind in Formula 1. Our commitment is to create winning opportunities, and I believe that there is no better reality than the Crypto.com Overtake Award. This award allows our values to shine through the celebration of moments when drivers exhibit their ability to move forward. This season has already seen many extraordinary overtakings, and I can’t wait to see who will be the champion this year".
Ben Pincus, Director of Formula 1 commercial partnerships, is also of the same opinion:
"We are pleased to expand our partnership with Crypto.com with the introduction of this award that will be integrated into the Formula 1 brand for the rest of the season, in addition to the already existing Title Partnership of the Formula 1 Sprint Events. This award will give us the opportunity to enhance the instinct of the pilots to carry out the maneuvers that, in a sense, reflect the useful qualities also in the sale of cryptocurrencies".
On the eve of the race there were some rumors about the positivity at SARS-CoV-2 of one of the drivers of Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri, forced to not take part in the Grand Prix, with the reserve driver, the Thai Alexander Albon, ready to replace him. The two teams will deny what was leaked, with Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly regularly attending the event.
An unpleasant news comes instead from Liberty Media, which confirms the announced cancellation - now for the second consecutive year - of the Japanese Grand Prix, scheduled for October 10, 2021. Obviously the choice is due once again to the pandemic, which also in this world is bringing inconvenience and sudden and sudden changes, especially to the organization of the world calendar. The latter is also confirmed on the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix: with the departure of Japan and the confirmation of the remaining races of the season, the calendar is reduced to twenty-two races instead of the twenty-three initially planned. In spite of this, the possibility of adding another Grand Prix is still left by moving by a week those of Turkey, Mexico and Brazil. The CEO of Liberty Media, Stefano Domenicali, admits:
"We have discussed about Qatar, but I cannot confirm or deny anything because it would not be professional from my point of view. We must find a solution to the cancellation of the Australian and Japanese Grand Prix and review the calendar as soon as possible. I hope that this can be done by the end of this weekend. Realistically, we now have the goal of holding 22 races, and it would already be a success. We have never entered so many tests in a year, and it should not be forgotten, by the way, that we are also in the middle of the Covid-19 emergency".
Also due to the global emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizers of the Dutch Grand Prix, close to that of Belgium, announce that the maximum allowable capacity will be sixty-seven percent and that for issues related to the budget the air show scheduled on the day of the race is canceled, as admitted by the Ministry of Defense, chaired by Ank Bijleveld:
"We are working on a major humanitarian operation in Afghanistan. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to hold an air show before the Formula 1 race".
For the 2022 season, the Federation wanted to homologate identical pit stop equipment, with the intention of checking the tyre changes and the release of single-seaters from the pitches with a sensor system visible in the direction of the race. However, Wednesday, August 18, 2021 the FIA indicates that each team will continue to develop its own tools, after the opposition of Red Bull Racing and Mercedes. A few days later, Scuderia Ferrari, thanks to an increase in performance linked to the introduction of a new power unit, announced that it will have ten additional horses available after the Italian Grand Prix, scheduled for September 12, 2021, in which the Parabolica curve of the Monza circuit will be named after the former racing driver Michele Alboreto, renaming it the Alboreto curve. The former Italian driver was runner-up in the 1985 World Championship driving Ferrari, before disappearing in 2001 while testing the new Audi R8 Sport in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The decision is made official the day before the race when the second Sprint Qualifying of the season takes place. This is the statement of the Autodrome:
"The Parabolic curve of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza will be named after Michele Alboreto. The decision was made by Angelo Sticchi Damiani, President of Automobile Club d'Italia - after having obtained unanimous approval from the Board of Sports - and will be made official on Saturday 11 September, during the weekend of Formula 1 Heineken Grand Prix of Italy. The last curve of the Temple of Speed will therefore take the name of Curva Alboreto, exactly twenty years after the death of the Milanese driver, which occurred in 2001 during some testing tests in the Lausitzring. The naming ceremony of the curve in Alboreto will take place Saturday, September 11 - day of the Sprint Qualifying Formula 1 - in the presence of his wife Nadia and family, the President of ACI Angelo Sticchi Damiani, the President and CEO of Liberty Media Stefano Domenicali, and the President of Autodromo Nazionale Monza Giuseppe Redaelli. The curve before the finish straight of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza is one of the most iconic of motorsport and has helped make the circuit one of the fastest in the world. The Curva Parabolica was built in 1955, taking the place of two hairpin bends paved with porphyry cubes and joined by a short straight line. It took its name from the design and trajectory it described: a crescent-arch line, similar to a parabolic arc. After passing the narrowest entrance that follows the straight opposite to the starting straight, the drivers can walk the final stretch of the curve in full acceleration, sliding outwards and taking the straight line of the finish line at full speed. Michele Alboreto can be defined one of the greatest Italian drivers of the last decades. Born on 23 December 1956, he began his sporting career in 1976, in the Formula Monza Championship. In the eighties he debuted in Formula 1 and - after an experience in Tyrrell - he switched to Ferrari, with which he became World Champion in 1985. In his career he won five Formula 1 Grands Prix but also competed in other championships including DTM, Formula Indy and World Endurance, of which he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1997. He died on 25 April 2001, only forty-four years old, following an accident at the Autodromo di Lausitz, during some preparation tests for the classic. Alboreto had been appointed Vice President of the CSAI and today the Federal School ACI Sport bears his name".
On the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix, on Thursday August 26, 2021 Owen Jones, currently Mercedes' chief engineer, signs for Red Bull Racing and will join the Anglo-Austrian team starting next season. For this race, Pirelli, the only tyre supplier, carries C2, C3 and C4 compound tyres, the three central compounds in the range. The FIA establishes two zones where the DRS can be activated: the first is on the straight of the Kemmel, with a point for determining the gap between drivers placed before the second corner. The second zone is established on the pit straight, and detection point fixed before curve 18. The Federation establishes three points of the track where drivers are forced to respect the limits of the latter.
The points in question concern the exit of turns 4, 9 and 19. Going beyond the limits of the track in these three points the drivers will see their lap times erased from the race direction and immediately the next one not respecting the limits at the exit of turn 19. The output of curve 4 is subsequently abolished, with the limits to be respected at the curve itself. The curb at the apex of curve 2 has been removed and replaced with another of the double size. Curbs at the exit of turns 7 (Le Combes) and 14 (Campus) were reduced in width by up to two metres from the edge of the track. Former Formula 1 driver Derek Warwick is named Assistant Commissioner for the race. He has done so in the past, the last at the Austrian Grand Prix. For this Grand Prix, like the previous one, the German car manufacturer Mercedes supplies the safety car and the medical car.
The Federation, before the previous Hungarian Grand Prix, had issued a new directive concerning pit stops, which are slowed down, with the aim of making them safer and thus limiting the risk of cars returning to the track or pit lane with the wheel nuts not fixed perfectly with the resulting safety risks. Then it is established that, starting from this Grand Prix, the Federation eliminates a part of the directive. The minimum reaction time of 0.15 is eliminated and two-tenths of the time between the release of the car from the kickstand and the restart is transformed into a permissible gap of a tenth. After the accident at the start of the previous Hungarian Grand Prix, at first - August 3, 2021 - Ferrari announces the replacement of the engine on Charles Leclerc’s car due to damage sustained after being hit by Aston Martin’s Canadian driver Lance Stroll.
"The incident of which he was the culpable protagonist at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix did not cost Charles Leclerc just - and it is already not a little - the concrete chance to get a good result at the Hungaroring. In fact, after the checks carried out yesterday in Maranello on the SF21 number 16, it emerged that the engine was irreparably damaged in the impact with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and can no longer be reused. For Scuderia Ferrari and for the Monegasque driver this is therefore a further damage, not only economic but also sporting, since it is very likely that in the rest of the season - there are still twelve race weekends left at the end of the championship - the team may be forced to mount on the SF21 of Charles a fourth ICE, resulting in a penalty on the starting grid".
Then, Thursday, August 26, 2021 the team of Maranello says that the Monegasque will compete with the used engine in Hungary of different units, but with equal specifications. Red Bull Racing also announces that Max Verstappen’s car, another driver involved in the accident, is not replacing the power unit. Helmut Marko admits in this regard:
"Verstappen and Perez engines can no longer be used right now. In terms of the distance we still have to travel, this means that we will probably have to use a fourth engine. Spa is not yet an option to take the penalty. First we want to wait and see until the last moment if there are chances to repair the damaged engines at Silverstone and in the Hungarian Grand Prix. We have to look at the optimal circuit to be able to recover on Sunday, the one where the penalty can damage us as little as possible. But this also depends on the final calendar: I think the date of the United States is quite safe, as are the other major Grands Prix. I hope that the calendar will be closed soon, so that we have some more information".
Regarding Mercedes, however, Toto Wolff, team principal, co-owner and executive director of the Anglo-German team, admits:
"Until the end of the year we will not bring further aerodynamic updates. We stopped the development months ago, the one assembled in Great Britain was conceived in the spring. These changes worked well and improved our performance".
For the Belgian Grand Prix, the German team decided to mount the third power unit of the season on the cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Honda confirms that the second power unit on the cars of Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez can no longer be repaired due to the damage caused by the accidents in the British Grand Prix for the Dutchman and the previous one in Hungary for the Mexican. Haas provides a new chassis for Nikita Mazepin’s car.
Before the start of the first free practice session on Friday, various components of the power unit are replaced on the cars of different drivers: the third unit concerning the internal combustion engine is mounted on the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Nicholas Latifi; the third turbocharger unit is fitted to the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Nicholas Latifi; the third unit concerning MGU-H was fitted to the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Nicholas Latifi.
The third MGU-K unit was fitted to the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez, Lando Norris, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda; the second unit concerning the energy recovery system is assembled on the cars Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr., Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Mick Schumacher; the second unit concerning the electronic control unit is mounted on the cars of Fernando Alonso and Mick Schumacher; the third unit concerning the exhaust system is mounted on the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi, the fifth unit on the cars of Sergio Pérez, Charles Leclerc, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly, the sixth unit on the car of Fernando Alonso. All drivers are not penalized on the starting grid as all new components installed are among those replaceable within the maximum number established.
The Belgian Grand Prix is held in its classical position in the calendar, at the end of August, after the summer break mandatory for teams and drivers lasting three weeks. During the month of July, the area where the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is located had been hit by a severe flood, which had caused damage to some infrastructure adjacent to the track, with the obligation to replace the safety barriers. The organizers, in fact, have been forced to suspend the motor activity for the reported damages. The Blanchimont road leading to the paddock had partially collapsed and the Ster tunnel was inaccessible. The circuit, however, did not suffer any damage, thus not affecting the smooth running of the Grand Prix.
Along with most of the races held in Europe that saw the presence of the public on the stands, the Belgian race also provides the opportunity for fans to attend the event, unlike the previous edition. Thanks to a local rule established last June, from the previous August 13, 2021 in the country it is possible to organize events with a maximum of 75.000 people. A few weeks before the race dispute, exactly on Sunday, August 15, 2021, the director of the circuit, Nathalie Maillet, was killed in her home in Gouvy with a friend by her husband, Franz Dubois, who then committed suicide after killing both of them. Upon learning of the dreadful news, the Federation pays tribute to the director:
"The FIA is saddened to learn of the tragic death of Nathalie Maillet. Nathalie was the CEO of the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps since 2016, during which time she oversaw the great development of the iconic track that hosts many FIA championships. On behalf of the entire motorsport community, we want to extend our condolences to his family and friends".
On the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff talks about the challenge that the Anglo-German team will face:
"We go to Spa-Francorchamps being in the lead at both championships and the W12 gives more guarantees after the updates introduced at Silverstone. We know, however, that there is a long road ahead and much can still happen in this season characterized by ups and downs. Spa is a track that we all know and love, one of the great classics of Formula 1, an extremely demanding track for both drivers and cars, with the longest lap of the season marked by a significant difference in altitude and the generation of very high G forces. The weather is also notoriously unpredictable at Spa and we always throw a curve ball. It will undoubtedly be an exciting and perfect weekend, the Belgium is the ideal place to start the second half of the season and it was very important for the whole team to relax and recharge in view of a final forcing that will be very challenging from all points of view".
On the hardness of the duel with Max Verstappen, Hamilton himself was the guarantor at the press conference of the Belgian Grand Prix:
"I’m no more cautious than I was at the beginning of the year. We knew how strong Red Bull would be in the early part of the season: we saw their speed and competitiveness and over the year they became stronger and stronger. We had a little trouble but we went back to making it as we did in the past. Also in this second half of the season we will be close: so far it has been one of my most complicated seasons and I expect it will be the same from now on. In fact, I think the battle will be even harder. Confronting your teammate or a driver from another team is the same thing in terms of potential to be extracted from the car. Either way, you have to do the best you can. However, the two battles are different in terms of relationships with the team: in one situation you have to deal only with one part of the team, in the other you all travel on the same side; and it’s a much better dynamic, a more pleasant journey".
By contrast, Max Verstappen arrives in Belgium with the hope of recovering points against the British driver:
"My summer break was good, it was good to take a few weeks off. It’s nice to be back, now we have a rather challenging hat-trick, but we are all in the same conditions. I am naturally excited to be back at Spa, we are talking about my favorite track and it is really nice to drive: it has so many high speed turns and altitude changes. I look forward to seeing all the fans coming to support us and it will be special to have so much orange in the stands again, as we ran behind closed doors last year. I also think it’s a good circuit to catch up on in the championship standings. These fifty races with Honda will always be special: we will remember them with affection. The first victory with this engine will be the most exciting memory of this collaboration and we hope to finish this season at the top of the charts, to greet us great. I enjoyed working with Honda from the start. They were always direct and were up to the situation".
Then, the Dutch driver adds:
"I think the only advantage a Formula 1 driver can really have is a faster car. Here the car counts a lot: there are many strong drivers who, however, do not have the opportunity to fight for victory. So no matter if you have seven titles or one or none, when you spend a few years in Formula 1 and maybe you are already used to fighting for the top positions, you know that you have to try to finish each race, get as many points as possible every single weekend. So I don’t think the experience of top fights is an advantage for Hamilton. I repeat, the advantage is the car. And Mercedes has been very fast over the last couple of weekends. In Hungary it was very strong, let’s see how it’s going here. Surely at Spa they will be fast: traditionally this track is not very suitable for us because of the long straights. In this winter we have certainly closed part of the gap but we are not yet at their level as pure power. I think that compared to 2020 our car has improved a lot, and also our top speed. But I think it’s hard to say if it’s enough to do well against Mercedes on this circuit".
The head of the Honda F1 department, Toyoharu Tanabe, highlights the results of the collaboration with Red Bull, with which he is challenging Hamilton and Mercedes:
"We got some fantastic results together, including our first win and pole in the hybrid era, as well as five consecutive wins. Our partnership has seen us on the podium 32 times, and we have achieved eleven victories. Last time in Belgium we got on the podium, but the whole team will push hard for an even better result: we are back from the holidays and we are ready for the second part of the season. Silverstone and Hungary were two tough races, so needed a break and get back physically and mentally rested. Spa is a classic. The first and third sectors are characterized by long gas sections, it is one of the most difficult races of the year from the point of view of the power unit. We want to keep winning, focusing on one race at a time for the rest of the year with both our teams".
A lucky series that will not be able to continue in Suzuka, since the Japanese Grand Prix has been cancelled in recent days:
"Everyone at Honda regrets this very much. We wanted to race in front of our home fans with our two teams in our last season in Formula 1. However, we are still determined to fight for victories in each of the remaining rounds".
Even Sergio Perez can not wait to go back to racing, after a short holiday:
"It was a good time to recharge, get fresh air, and have two weeks in the same place, no trips, it’s always nice. I managed to completely disconnect from Formula 1, which is important both mentally and physically. Now I’m back, fully recharged. It will be a second part of the season very intense. It’s crazy to think that in four months the season will be over. The retirement of Hungary increased my hunger, not only for Spa but, in general, for the second half of the season. I feel more and more comfortable with the car, we are making the right steps forward and I think we will have a great season finale. Spa with these machines is a lot of fun to drive. The weather can be capricious: the circuit is so long that it can be dry in some parts and wet in others, which makes the conditions difficult".
The Mexican spends a word also for Honda, which is at the 50th race with Red Bull:
"It brings enthusiasm, you can see their passion for the sport and it’s nice to have around people with this kind of energy. I enjoyed working with them and it has been a great experience so far, I hope we can repay them by winning this year’s World Championship before they leave Formula 1".
It is a special Grand Prix for the young Mick Schumacher, who in Belgium will commemorate his father using the same colors of the helmet chosen by his parent at the origin of his Formula 1 career, and who drove the Jordan used by Michael at his debut in 1991:
"Driving my father’s car was a wonderful experience. Now, five years later, I show up here as an official driver almost thirty years after his debut in the category. It will be a special moment for me and my family, and so I can’t wait to leave my signature on this equally special track. Here I got my first success in Formula 3 in 2018, after also taking the first pole. This is also why I consider this place special for me, and more generally for my family".
After an incredible victory, the Alpine drivers hope to continue the positive trend in Belgium. Fernando Alonso says:
"I took some time to recharge my batteries, as it was a long first half of the season. I did some cycling and spent time with family and friends. It wasn’t long before I got back on track, though, and I had fun on my home karting track. Spa is a great circuit and it is a pleasure to race with a Formula 1 car. Driving the Eau Rouge level with these modern cars will be incredible. It is a fairly traditional circuit in a way and always offers a good race for fans. The weather can sometimes be unpredictable, so we have to capitalize on every opportunity as we did in Budapest".
Even Esteban Ocon is preparing to return to racing, strong in the awareness that gives the fact of having won a race in the highest car Formula 1:
"I did not expect to participate in this race after the summer break as the last winner in Formula 1. It is still an incredibly special feeling. Now it’s time to focus on the resumption of the season, we enjoyed the moment in Hungary and of course repeating that feeling would be great, but you need to be realistic and aim for good points. Time could shuffle the cards, we must be ready to seize every opportunity".
The first day of practice, which takes place on Friday, August 27, 2021, is characterized by rain, an element that according to many drivers can be a decisive factor for the course of the race weekend and that is invoked by some as Lando Norris who confirms:
"The weather could play an important role. I hope for some rain, it would make the weekend exciting".
The first free practice session, despite the rain, did not see many accidents; only a Source spin by Kimi Raikkonen that accompanied him into the barriers and forced him to finish his practice session. The fastest is the compatriot of the Alfa Romeo driver, Valtteri Bottas, who is a tenth behind Max Verstappen. The other title contender, Lewis Hamilton, finished the session in 18th place, hampered by Williams driver Nicholas Latifi during his fast lap attempt. The two leading teams - Mercedes and Red Bull - try the hard compound tyres for a long time (for this race the C4) in view of a probable wet race. Slick tyres (C2 for the soft and C3 for the medium) are fitted, however, only during the second practice session, which takes place without rain and with almost dry track conditions.
At the end of FP2 to be the fastest is instead Verstappen, advantaged by a rather empty configuration of his car, which led him, however, to error making him go off track and crashing against the barriers at the chicane Les Combes. The power oversteer made the car uncontrollable and the impact with the barriers was inevitable. The left rear suspension is damaged. Charles Leclerc is also the protagonist of an accident at the same corner, just before that of the Dutchman and always because of a sudden oversteer. Ferrari is therefore forced to replace the chassis of the Monegasque car, mounting the reserve one, as well as several components of the power unit already replaced on the eve of the first session. The Monegasque said in the press conference on Thursday that he was hoping to get a good surprise here in Belgium, although the Spa-Francorchamps track is not among the best for the characteristics of his Ferrari.
"I think this lead is on paper rather difficult for us. That said, we have already had some good surprises this year so we hope to have another good one this weekend and be more competitive than we think, but on paper it doesn’t seem like a strong track for us".
Less optimistic, however, is the seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, not extremely satisfied with the performance of his car in this Friday of practice, declaring that there is still much work to be done, all made difficult by the little activity on the track that the weather is ensuring them:
"Although for some laps the track was dry, I did not feel completely comfortable with the car. Tomorrow I will have to work to get rid of this feeling, even on a track where it is difficult to find a right balance. This morning we set a schedule, but after changing something in the afternoon the results remained similar. We were fast in the first and third sectors, but we lost a lot in the second. The alternative would be to increase the pace in the latter point, but we would lose in the other two. However, the track is uneven at the Eau Rouge. I noticed a hole in the compression point that wasn’t there in the past. I think it’s because of the rain, but I’m sure they’ll fix it".
Not the same thought for his teammate, who instead seems to be very in tune with both the car and the track, just 0.041 seconds behind Verstappen in the second free practice session.
"The pace today looked pretty good, both in the long run and in the qualifying simulations. We seem pretty fast on the straight, less in sector 2, more driven. However, for me in the race it is important to be fast in sectors 1 and 3. If it rains it will take more downforce, we will see how it goes and what the weather will be. It will be difficult to choose the tyres for qualifying. In any case everything seemed quite positive in the car, I did not encounter any problems. As we have seen from the rankings, we will once again be very close to Red Bull, we will look at the details tonight and see what gains we can find in terms of performance. It is always difficult to compare practice sessions in detail, but at least the feeling is good: it is a positive start for the weekend".
On different mood is Max Verstappen, who at the end of the tests admits:
"We definitely had a good start today, but unfortunately I lost the rear end at the end of the second free practice session, there was too much oversteer to correct and I hit the barriers. As a team we were happy with how things were going, with a good tuning between FP1 and FP2. Looking forward to tomorrow. There are some aspects to consider, especially the weather. It will be difficult to understand how the track will be wet, but in any case it will be very interesting, because both Saturday and Sunday we should relive the same conditions as today".
Red Bull’s advisor, Helmut Marko, warns the Mercedes team that Red Bull will have in qualifying and in race half a second more speed, thanks to different mappings of the Honda engine:
"We didn’t push the engine like Mercedes did today. We still have half a second to pull out. The question is how much margin Mercedes still has at the level of engine to pull out. Sometimes they run with more or less pushy mappings, not always their performance increase is linear on weekends".
Carlos Sainz Jr., who admits that there will be a lot of work at Ferrari to find a new competitiveness, is not happy:
"It’s great to be back on track, especially on a circuit like this that, at the wheel of a Formula 1 car, always gives extraordinary sensations. I enjoyed it. In terms of performance, however, it was not the best of Fridays. We didn’t have a chance to complete a real long run and the work in qualifying configuration was not perfect at the balancing level. We have a lot to do tonight but I am confident that we can improve and find ourselves in a more interesting position tomorrow".
Lando Norris, who, unlike his friend and former teammate, says:
"Of course, we all went back on track without pushing immediately, but it was still a non-negative day. We have seen some improvements on the car, and I think we are in the right direction to be able to present a more performing car in view of FP3 and qualifying, also thanks to the work we will do tonight. It was a complex day due to the weather, but I am confident to have a car that will be able to compete tomorrow to get a good result in qualifying where we will say our".
Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, ready to race his two-hundredth Grand Prix in Formula 1 with the awareness of having solved some problems with the tyres, is also of the same opinion:
"It’s not entirely easy to get back in the car after the holidays, but it was nice to start again. I had fun, and this track helps you to live wonderful sensations. Our performance with soft tyres was not good, but we understood the reason for this behavior, so I can’t say that I feel worried. On the other hand, we did better with the hard drives. By the way, we have made some progress, which we hope to improve further during the night. We avoided the rain for most of the day, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow".
During the third session on Saturday morning, the rain returns and the black clouds of water loom over the Ardennes region, where the circuit is located. The drivers take to the track once again with the wet tyres, the intermediates (only Haas initially has full wet); the two Red Bull drivers take the lead in the standings and the situation remains unchanged until the end of the session, This course is also due to the lack of activity on track in view of the upcoming qualifying session. The Federation and the Commissioners are forced to postpone the latter to 3:12 p.m. due to the heavy rain that falls shortly before the scheduled start of the qualifying session.
The first cars to get on track in Q1 are the Williams: George Russell manages to establish himself at the top of the standings with a great lap, before Hamilton and later Gasly steal the leadership. The improvement of the track allows riders to replace the full wet tires with the intermediate and lower the time. Several drivers alternate the lead, but at the end of the session it is Lando Norris to close the first part of qualifying with the best time. Eliminated instead are the two Alfa Romeo drivers, Giovinazzi in sixteenth position and Raikkonen in nineteenth, those of Haas, Schumacher in eighteenth position and Mazepin at the bottom of the grid, and finally the Alpha Tauri of the Japanese Tsunoda.
In Q2, the threat of rain came back and immediately seven cars took to the track to try to score a qualifying time, in case of surprises due to the particular weather condition. Norris' McLaren is still in the lead, even beating Verstappen’s time. The Mercedes instead seems to be in trouble; in fact, the Anglo-German cars take to the track by mounting a set of used tires; this forces the two drivers to return to the pits to mount a new one, wasting precious time.
Lewis Hamilton also made a further pit stop, mounting new tyres, an unplanned strategy, before launching for his last timed attempt that brought him to second place, followed by Bottas, in third, with Norris still leading the standings. Despite Leclerc’s hopes, the two Ferrari drivers were eliminated at the end of Q2, as they could not go beyond the eleventh position (the Monegasque) and the thirteenth (the Spanish). To keep him company among the eliminated there are Latifi, in twelfth position, however a remarkable result for the Williams driver, Alonso in fourteenth, and Lance Stroll in fifteenth position.
The last part of qualifying starts with another strong storm that hits the circuit. This time the conditions are really difficult and visibility is poor. Most teams, therefore, opt for full wet tires; only Gasly and Russell mount the intermediate tires, then forced to return and follow their colleagues with extreme wet tires. Hints of strategy instead hover over Mercedes and Red Bull, waiting for the opponent to make the first move to adapt and not stay at a disadvantage, but before they can get on track the session is interrupted and the red flag exposed due to an accident. Lando Norris, who had been showing great speed since qualifying began, lost control of his car at the Radillon, crashing violently into the barriers.
This was quite an accident, considering the speed with which the driver faced the climb of the Eau Rouge and which also generated a certain alarmism considering that the accident occurred at that point in 2019 during Race 1 of Formula 2, in which the French driver Anthoine Hubert died and in which the Sauber rookie, Manuel Correa, was severely injured, is still alive in everyone’s memory. Norris' car bounces around the middle of the track, running the danger of being hit by other cars about to exit from Eau Rouge, uphill curve that makes it impossible for drivers to see what will appear in front of them, and then, fortunately, slips into the escape route. Sebastian Vettel, who was following Norris waiting to start his timed lap, was the English driver’s condition and was then interrupted by the radio communication of his engineer who warned him about the accident that happened a little later. The four-time World Champion does not hide his anger, since he had already expressed his concerns about the weather conditions too at the limit with which the qualifying was taking place several times calling the red flag, and opens in a furious radio team hurling against the race direction:
"What the f**k I said, what did I say?! Red flag. It was absolutely not necessary to get to this".
After qualifying, Sebastian Vettel will comment on what happened:
"It’s always easy to talk things over. It’s hard for us to judge the situation because it’s like being at the window. You know it’s raining, but not as much. The stewards on the track had all the information on the track to help make the right decision, to give the green light for the red flag. The main thing is that Norris is fine".
Vettel stops beside the MCL35M of Norris and waits for the Englishman to give him a sign to comfort him about his health. Nod arrived a few moments later. Norris gets out of his car independently, certainly a little shaken, but unharmed, and is taken to the medical center for further and more thorough investigations, having immediately complained of experiencing pain in the elbow. An ultrasound then ruled out any fractures and the team reassured that he was there for the race. Not only the German driver, but also many drivers and members of the paddock, express their disappointment against the race direction. In fact, many drivers had defined it almost impossible to race with the weather conditions that raged on the circuit at the beginning of Q3, but their words were not taken into account by the FIA that did not suspend the session exposing red flag.
The Norris incident is the latest in a series that has involved several drivers of various categories just in the same spot this year. Controversy about the safety of Eau Rouge had already been raised with the frightening accident during the 24 Hours of Spa in which Jack Aitken - Williams' development driver - was involved, who fortunately did not suffer serious damage. While in early August, another incident occurred always on the outing of Eau Rouge during the qualifying session of the W Series, a single-seater car championship reserved for the women’s category, during which six cars were involved. Now, instead, the incident of Norris in Formula 1.
"It’s horrible to see for me. For many people in the paddock the incident reminded us of the dark days two years ago. We lost a friend, and a good driver, Anthoine, in the same spot. It’s very sad to see an accident here again. I’m glad to see Lando’s okay, even though he has to go to the hospital for check-ups".
This is how Cherles Leclerc comments, adding that he is pleased to know that some changes are planned in the future, to make this curve safer. In fact, the management of the circuit of Spa-Francorshamps has planned a series of changes to allow the return of the World Endurance 24 Heures Motos - endurance motorcycle race - right on the Belgian circuit, that had already been present in the Endurance calendar from 1973 until 2003. The works include a renewal about the grandstands, moving those leaving from La Source and introducing new ones along the climb to Raidillon, and above all we also think of an alternative track for the famous climb. Fundamental will also be the work that will be made to the curbs and the modification of many escape routes, even existing, introducing the so-called gravel traps - literally gravel traps - in five curves: La Source, Blanchimont, Les Combes and Stavelot. These changes are, of course, welcomed by Sebastian Vettel who says:
"At Eau Rouge I think it’s probably too easy for us to go much faster than we should. I think it was more difficult a few years ago, while now we are probably going too fast".
Fernando Alonso also believes that some changes, especially those to barriers, can prevent serious accidents in the future. However, the Spanish driver does not hide the charm that this fast turn does not hide even in the eyes of those who are spectators:
"With a different barrier it is probably possible to avoid some accidents, but it remains a high-speed curve. It is her nature and that is what makes her special".
Many drivers appreciate the spectacularity of this corner, including Lewis Hamilton who comments in this way on what to do:
"Of course there is a danger factor, but I like Eau Rouge as it is. I think they should just get rid of the bump and then leave Eau Rouge like this".
To support the purists of the original track there is also Daniel Ricciardo, who would not want the layout of the track to be changed, but simply increased the safety of the curve in question:
"They should not change the layout of the circuit, but push the barriers and open a little free space. It’s obviously a very fun and iconic twist, but when it goes wrong it’s always a big accident. So, if they do not change the route but improve safety I would be happy".
Returning to the qualifying session interrupted by the red flag, the drivers can finally return to the track after the approval of the race direction that arrives half an hour after the accident that involved the British McLaren driver. The rain is still raging, but less than before, and the choice to mount the intermediate tires is the right one for many teams. Initially he seems to be the seven-time World Champion to be the fastest on track, with his Dutch rival at a second and his Finnish teammate a second and a half behind. Perez was only fifth, but on his second attempt he improved and moved up to second, leaving only two tenths behind Hamilton.
However, another twist upsets this qualifying session: George Russell is the author of an exceptional lap, practically perfect, that allows him to take the reigning World Champion in front of him by snatching him the best performance in the first sector. But it’s not over for Hamilton, because it’s Verstappen who takes pole position, with an excellent second sector and the only one to close his lap under two minutes. The top three sees, therefore, the Dutchman in first position, followed by an extraordinary George Russell and finally by a defeated Lewis Hamilton, who is not satisfied with his performance as reflected by the press conference post qualifying:
"It was a very difficult day for everyone. I just tried to stay positive, focused and calm. In any case, I am really grateful to the team for keeping calm in this session and tomorrow is another day and we hope to have better weather conditions. Congratulations to Max, he did a good job. Well the first attempt, then in the second I struggled more. Great work by George, it was great. Strategy tomorrow? If so tomorrow it will be complicated. You have to find a balance between straight speed and the downforce that you need in the central section. We tried to find the best balance. It was not the best for today, we will see if tomorrow will be more favorable to us. The team was very good. Tomorrow we hope the weather will be better, especially for the fans. Alliance with George against Verstappen? I don’t know what happened to Valtteri but it’s a shame. The two Red Bulls are not far away, this will make our life difficult at the level of strategy. We will do what we can. I hope tomorrow is not as crazy as today".
His team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, will instead start only thirteenth, due to a penalty on the grid of five positions following the accident he caused in Hungary. It’s a very different moral for George Russell, still speechless for his fantastic performance:
"I don’t know what to say to be honest. I thought we would have done a good job if we had passed Q1, given yesterday’s performance, and now we are in front. I think I was in a lucky position and we had nothing to lose. We were in Q3, which was not a normal condition for us, and we had to try. We saved a maximum engine mapping for the last lap and we thought, You know what? Let’s go for it. Absolutely exciting. Of course, tomorrow is the important day. I have to go out there and bring home some extra points".
Pole man Max Verstappen, happy with his performance, also talks about the difficulty of these qualifying due to the weather and the choice of tyres, a variable that in conditions like these can prove decisive:
"It was a really difficult qualifying. It’s hard to keep the car on track, even changing the tyres at the right time. Even the long break between Q2 and Q3, it is not easy then to adjust and adapt again to the conditions of the track, but in the end we were the first and this is the most important thing. It’s a fantastic track to drive but very challenging in the wet. Changing between intermediate and wet? In Q1 we went out wet and we went slow. So we’re moving to midway, but those tires don’t work when there’s a lot of water on the track. I’m glad I did a qualifying like this after the break and I brought home another pole".
Excellent performance also by Daniel Ricciardo, who finished in fourth position and achieved his best result in qualifying with McLaren. New record also for Sebastian Vettel, qualified in fifth place, the best since he started his adventure with Aston Martin. Not surprisingly, the German driver thinks he can win even the podium in the race, should it continue to rain:
"Podium? If it rains like this all race, maybe. I got out on my best lap at turn 8, so I could do better. I’m getting to know this car better and better. In these conditions we are more competitive. This is a good result; we will see how it goes tomorrow. We must be ready for anything. This weather is terrible by normal standards, but great for us, because it helps us to be more competitive. As long as it’s a safe race, I think the rain will be fine".
The result of Ferrari is disappointing. Carlos Sainz Jr., who at the time of the suspension of Q3 due to the incident in Lando Norris, admitted:
"The result? I can’t explain it right now, so far it has been a difficult weekend. In particular it has been difficult on the rain. I couldn’t find the grip with the car. In rainy conditions I had a positive feeling at Imola, so I expected a stronger car in the wet. But here, for some reason, we’re not going strong. There’s no temperature on the front tires. You must analyse. We will find the solution, but today was tough. These are conditions that I really like, but we didn’t do well”.
And even looking at the race, the Spanish struggles to find ideas to be optimistic.
"We’ll see. At the moment we have to find something big to go stronger in the wet. If we don’t find him, the race will be like qualifying, we’ll be out of the top ten. The team will do the best they can to find something, but at the moment it is difficult. We didn’t do enough laps with the full wet to know how it would go in that case. The feeling, however, was not good".
Obviously, Charles Leclerc cannot be happy with the result of the two Ferraris in qualifying:
"There was a bit of adrenaline and exaggeration in my words. I have the impression that we could go into Q3 today, especially after the great work that the team did after FP3, making a huge effort. However, we tried to reverse the situation. There was no miracle, but we were competitive against FP3. We paid for the fact of putting the intermediate tyres before the others, but arriving at the pits I realized that there was rain coming and so we made this decision. But it is one of those situations where it is easy to talk later, at the time it was difficult and you have to choose in a short time. Little wing? Let’s see tomorrow if it has not paid, if there is dry track can help us. Prospects for the race? It will be difficult, the conditions will not change. They will be variable and mixed; it will rain intermittently. We hope to be luckier than the first part of the season".
Laurent Mekies, Ferrari’s operations manager, comments on a very difficult Saturday for the men led by his team principal, Mattia Binotto:
"A qualification much lower than our usual level in a weekend that, so far, has proved very difficult for us. We have not yet been able to express the full potential of the car, neither in the dry nor in the wet, even if the situation has slightly improved. In conditions that changed very quickly as those of today it is never easy to center the ideal moment to make time, while it is always easy to judge things done. Having said that, we will only be drawing the sums for this weekend tomorrow afternoon, after the chequered flag. We expect a very tough race, which will presumably take place in conditions similar to those of today: it will therefore be a priority to try to work calmly and make the most of any opportunity that may arise".
Valtteri Bottas is equally disappointed:
"It was a real battle; I was hoping for a better result. In general, the session was not bad, and there were also opportunities to climb into the top three. In the slow lap before the last attempt, I encountered traffic. From the start of the final lap, I tried to keep the tyres in temperature, which in the meantime had lost the right level to be able to try a valid lap. With the penalty it won’t be easy, but I’ll fight hard. If it rains, we will face different opportunities, while in dry weather we will have a competitive car. It will be a real challenge but, as we have seen so far, anything can happen".
Saturday qualifying is destined to return as a protagonist on Sunday, August 29, 2021, which promises more twists and an unexpected ending. As for the day before, the rain remains the undisputed protagonist even falling on the day dedicated to the race, characterized by a decidedly uncertain weather, which therefore promises the dispute of a wet Grand Prix and the first consequences are already felt during the reconnaissance lap. Sergio Perez, in fact, loses control of his car at Les Combes, ending up against the barriers and damaging the car, which is returned to the pits to see the damage and assess whether it is possible to restore it in time for the start; after the first checks this does not seem possible given the short time available to the mechanics.
However, the intensity of the rain worries the paddock and especially the race direction, especially in deference to the incident of Norris happened the day before, pushes the race director Micheal Masi to assume a conservative and decidedly preventive regime, postponing the start of the race initially at 3:15 p.m. and then, since the weather does not seem to improve, at 3:25 p.m. At this point the cars get into position along the pit lane to make not one, but two training laps behind the safety car driven by Bernd Maylander. However, the drivers, preceded by Max Verstappen, judge the conditions still too extreme to be able to run, complaining and expressing their concerns via radio, especially because of the intense water trail left by the car in front of them, which drastically lowers the visibility of the drivers. At this point the Race Control announces the cancellation of the start procedure, suspending it, and is displayed red flag. So all the cars go back into the pit lane.
The rules stipulate that the race will take place within three hours of the scheduled start time, a factor that will be crucial for the dispute of this race. In fact, two hours after attempting the training lap behind the safety car, the weather conditions have not improved, indeed, as Verstappen will later comment practically the weather conditions have become worse and worse right from three o'clock in the afternoon, or the estimated time of departure. The race direction was therefore forced to stop the clock at an hour from the end of the time allowed by the regulation, keeping extra time to potentially start the race at a later date, which, however, would only be limited to one hour of time. During the two hours of waiting before the time stop, Red Bull mechanics manage to replace the damaged parts of Perez’s car, putting the Mexican in the position of being able to take part in the race, starting from the pit lane behind Raikkonen, whose rear wing is replaced under Parc Ferme.
Initially, the Mexican could not have started if the game had started regularly at 3:00 p.m., but at this point there is a regulatory problem. Would Perez be allowed to race, should the race break out in the next few hours? Technically at the moment the race has not started, only reconnaissance laps have been completed. So the Mexican could line up at the bottom of the grid and start with the other drivers. Michael Masi told Red Bull sports director Jonathan Wheatley that Perez could not leave because he received outside assistance in returning to the pits. Masi says he will talk to the stewards to make a decision. Christian Horner is hopeful.
"We believe that Perez has not received external assistance. The race has not started yet, so if there is time we can repair the car. The guys are doing a fantastic job. Let’s see if the race starts though. What will happen? You have to wait. In these conditions you cannot run. Visibility is too low. It is difficult to see from one marshall post to another, it is too dangerous".
Then the Mexican driver will be given the start regularly, while about the decision of the race direction, the official statements of the FIA announce that:
"In accordance with the powers conferred on them by the FIA’s International Sports Code, the Stewards have decided, in accordance with their authority under Article 11.9.3.o, to temporarily stop the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix at 5:00:00 p.m. This decision is made by force majeure".
The start of the Spa Grand Prix is therefore still in doubt and, if this happens, the rules provide that it would take at least two laps of the race, even behind safety car, to make the event official and only half of the points would be awarded. In order to be able to award the points in full, it would be necessary to cover seventy-five percent of the distance of the race, but this scenario is currently impossible having only one hour left to play the race.
"The biggest problem for drivers is not being able to see anything ahead. There’s all the water coming up, they don’t see anything and it becomes dangerous to leave like this. We do not know what will happen, at the moment the weather does not improve, at least for the next half hour, now. I do not know until you can get there before it gets dark, which will happen very soon as it is cloudy".
While waiting to understand how the decisions of the race management will develop, Haas team principal Gunther Steiner expresses his doubts about the Grand Prix, even hoping for a postponement to the next day:
"We will see if it will be possible, but I do not know if it will be logically feasible or not, also because next week we must also go to Zandvoort. Starting the race tomorrow, however, can be a solution. We hope to do it today in any case, because it would be better for everyone".
To dismiss the idea of a possible postponement to the next day, Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto, says:
"Sainz and Leclerc are looking to stay focused, one of them is in the office warm, the other is in the pits with the mechanics. The important thing is to stay focused, also because the wait can be long. The weather indicates heavy rain for 45 minutes or an hour, so you’ll have to wait a long time before leaving, if you can. From 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. the race can be done, but after 6:00 p.m. it automatically ends by regulation. We hope for an improvement, there is still time. For now there have been continuous postponements and suspensions, but when we pass for the first time on the finish line the race will actually start with the first lap. If, from that moment, they can complete at least thirty-three rounds, the score will be awarded without being halved. It doesn’t matter if behind the safety car or not. I don’t think there’s a derogation for the race, but I don’t have an exact answer. If they can repair your car and reposition you can leave".
But how do you stay focused despite these conditions? Antonio Giovinazzi expresses his idea in this regard, underlining the impracticality of the circuit and hoping for a postponement of the race:
"We went very slowly and you couldn’t see anything, and that was all over the track. You couldn’t even go on the gas. Impassable. We wait, but now it is similar to before and there is no improvement. Now I was sleeping a little; you have to stay focused, but it is difficult. Relaxation is important, but you should not lose focus. For now, from the radar, it seems that there will be water until tonight. I just hope it calms down a bit, also because the track dries very quickly, but if it does not stop raining I see it impractical. The problem is visibility: brave yes, stupid no. When you don’t see it, it’s ugly. It’s a track with long straights and high speeds. We’ll see, I just hope that the conditions improve. Racing tomorrow? It’s fine for me, because the next appointment is close".
After numerous delays, the race finally seems to be about to begin and is officially resumed at 6:17 p.m., with weather conditions still prohibitive, due to heavy rain. The cars, therefore, leave the pit lane once again behind the safety car, with Max Verstappen leading the pack. However, the water trail that lifts the cars is still too intense and visibility remains extremely poor: there are no signs of improvement compared to the last attempt made more than three hours before.
After only two laps completed, behind safety car, Micheal Masi again exposes the red flag and the race ends: the finish positions correspond to the starting positions and therefore the Dutch Max Verstappen wins the Belgian Grand Prix, followed by an unexpected George Russell in second and Lewis Hamilton in third. Verstappen, therefore, extends his lead over his rival, Lewis Hamilton, in the drivers' standings. Having been unable to play at least seventy-five percent of the distance of the race, they are awarded half points, as previously anticipated. The conclusion of this Grand Prix opens a series of disagreements and controversies about the official nature of a race that has not really been held, and that has left both drivers and fans with a sense of incompleteness. Moreover, many have wondered if it was really a correct choice to assign the points, even if halved, for two laps only:
"I don’t understand why I got points, since I didn’t run. I just followed the safety car. I never had this situation in Formula 1. The only race I participated in that was canceled was Suzuka in Super Formula. In hindsight the pole position was very important. It was a shame not to have done real laps today. The conditions were very treacherous. At 3:30 p.m. I said: come on. Because I thought the conditions were fair. Of course the visibility was very low. I think if we had made the start at 3:30 p.m. the conditions would have been better. We tried to stay focused and wait. Clearly it’s a win, but it’s not a very pleasant win. The real credit goes to the fans. They have been on track all day today, with the rain, the cold and the wind. They are the biggest winners today. Gap from Lewis? We have to keep pushing to pass it. We have some races to make it. I am confident that the car is good, we must continue to squeeze a little more performance".
A success that did not satisfy Helmut Marko:
"We’re not proud of winning like this. I didn’t like how they kept the fans out there in the open for so long. I hope that in the future a similar situation will be handled differently. You could play immediately the two laps or postpone everything to tomorrow".
Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner is of the same opinion:
"It’s frustrating for the teams, for the drivers and especially for the spectators not having been able to race today, but unfortunately the conditions made us understand that, despite the long wait, we still could not enjoy the necessary safety to run. Everyone has done their best to try to compete, and the credit goes to the FIA and Liberty Media that have fielded all their forces until it became impossible. His great work in qualifying, in difficult conditions, allowed him to win and to earn half of the score, which however leads us to shorten the distances in both the world drivers and manufacturers. We all feel a little uneasy, and a great deal of recognition must be given to those who have remained in the gallery today. We really appreciated their loyalty and I am sorry that they could not attend the show for which they had presented themselves, we hope to give a great show in the Netherlands".
The second driver, Sergio Perez, was the protagonist of an accident during the deployment lap but allowed the men of Red Bull to demonstrate all their ability to repair the car in a short time.
"As for Checo’s contact against the barriers, it was incredible to see the mechanics in action, under pressure, to be able to return the car in such a short time, giving him the opportunity to race. It was a great job, since both the suspension and the steering were damaged, but it was nice to see the two sides of the garage coming together to be able to remedy this problem together".
Russell does not hide his sadness for having obtained his first podium in Formula 1 in a situation that will go down in history as questionable and not entirely official:
"We were rewarded for great qualifying. That’s how it went today. I’m so sorry for the fans, they gave us incredible support. We’re all in the same boat. We couldn’t do the race, but it’s a fantastic result from me and the team. Today, Saturday is a big deal. We celebrated for this. The whole team deserves this result. We’ve done a great job in the last two years. But there was nothing to prove it. Yesterday we finally made it and today we are rewarded with the podium. I will surely celebrate".
The first representative of the GPDA points out:
"To all the fans who are getting wet here at Spa right now I say I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Thanks for challenging this weather. We know this is frustrating for all of you, but safety must come first. Fingers crossed to get a result today, one way or another. Fingers crossed".
Lewis Hamilton is evidently more disappointed, losing further advantage in the standings against Max Verstappen:
"I’m sorry for the fans. Today it’s nobody’s fault with this weather. The fans were amazing, they waited for a race that never happened. We knew the track would never get better, and so did they. It was decided to do these two laps behind the Safety Car, which was the minimum to validate the race. I hope that at least the fans will be reimbursed. Running? No, you couldn’t see. The car in front of you disappeared. On the straight it would have been very difficult to understand even where the dazzling light was. You couldn’t go all the way because you couldn’t know where the front car was. I wanted to race. It would have been a good race if it hadn’t rained so hard".
And later, through his own social channels, the British driver will continue to say:
"Today was a farce, and the only people who lost were the fans, who paid good money to see us compete. Obviously nothing can be done about the weather, but we have sophisticated equipment to predict what will happen and it was clear that conditions would not change. We were sent out for one reason and one reason only. Two laps behind the Safety Car, where there is no chance to gain or lose positions nor to entertain fans is not racing. We should have simply closed everything, not put the drivers at risk and - most importantly - reimburse the fans, who are the heart of our sport".
One idea, the latter to reimburse the cost of tickets, partially rejected by the circuit director, Melchior Wathelet:
"It’s a painful time. There were a few laps behind the Safety Car, but there was no show and we’re all sad. It wasn’t the best way to end the weekend. We’re evaluating everything, and we’re open to any solution. In any case, we do not want to create false hopes for not keeping our promises. It is still too early to say whether it is really feasible to reimburse fans".
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff comments on the extraordinary decisions that were made during the Belgian Grand Prix:
"I don’t think this has happened before, it has to be considered a bad day in which we all hoped we could run, but it did not happen. What we realized is that now we depend on the weather, all of us tried to give our all to get on track, but we failed because of the rain. We don’t have much to learn from Sunday. We have all the reasons to be disappointed, should be awarded half score only when there is the certainty that time can not improve further. But it’s over now. We have to close this chapter and move on, but I still want to thank all the fans who have been under the water for three days".
Mick Schumacher, who wore a celebratory helmet in Spa in honor of his father, agrees with what Lewis Hamilton said:
"Today it could be done in a completely different way: when there is so much water the real problem becomes visibility. Behind the Safety Car we didn’t go very fast, yet I didn’t know where exactly the car was in front of me. It wasn’t the best day for us, but I can imagine it was even worse for the fans. I noticed some of them didn’t even have umbrellas, and I thank them all for staying. My race in Hungary was over prematurely, and even today our race had a premature conclusion but at least we are ready to face two consecutive races, with Zandvoort and Monza that are about to arrive. I hope I can perform well. On the one hand it is very frustrating to have waited so long to be able to compete and not have succeeded, and on the other it was also frustrating for the fans who waited to see the race start. They must have frozen out for so long, so I thank them and I’m sorry I didn’t give them the show they were running for. The serious problem was visibility, there was really nothing visible. We will still have other opportunities in the future".
Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Liberty Media:
"Half points have been awarded. It’s not ideal, but if you can’t reward someone for the race, reward them for bravery in qualifying. A lap like that made by George Russell in qualifying, in the absence of a full race, should be rewarded. Like I said, it’s not ideal, but it’s the situation we’re in. The weather wasn’t on our side on Sunday. Unfortunately, the weather worked against us, it was relentless. The FIA tried everything it could, sending the cars to the track behind the Safety Car twice to assess the conditions. It was not so much the intensity of the rain that was the problem, but rather the fact that it was constant and that it led to very poor visibility. Every effort has been made to start the race safely. Usually there is always a window where you can put the Safety Car in the pits. This time it was not possible".
Unlike his colleagues, Monegasque driver of Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, tries to dampen the controversy, telling his Sunday:
"I was busy with Carlos playing chess. I won, at least today".
The Ferrari driver agreed with the decisions made by Michael Masi.
"The management was right. We started trying with these conditions, but it was not good. Then, in the second part, we tried to start again and the regulation that there has led us to have points. I think it was right to try again, but surely it is very strange to have points for a race that has never started. In the end the decision to try again was right. Two points? They are worth little. But it is the decision to try again that led us to get points today".
Team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr., is also of the same mind:
"It’s a shame, but they were corrected. The conditions were too difficult, you couldn’t see anything. When you go to 300 km/h and you see nothing you cannot drive in these circumstances, because you risk too much, all the more so on a track where big accidents can happen. I really don’t think they should give for a race that has never been held; for my half point I’m not happy, I don’t deserve it. The only thing I could agree with was trying to get out to assess the track situation, but we saw that you couldn’t drive. Certainly not to follow the rules and get points in this way, because so you do not have to really assign".
Conflicting opinions about the officiality of the points, obviously welcome and accepted by those who came out winner in this situation, and more disappointed those who were penalized by the choice of race direction, Like Lando Norris declaring that he wanted to race to make up for what happened yesterday, or even Perez given his initial accident that cost him the top positions in the standings. Conversely, among the drivers there was a certain unanimity in declaring that the weather conditions were really too extreme to be able to run, even those who were in the lead on the starting grid - and therefore have fewer cars ahead - they said they had a rather reduced visibility, equal to zero as Esteban Ocon says after the race:
"Visibility was zero. We couldn’t see anything behind us. So, yes, hats off to Michael Masi and the FIA, because it was not an easy decision to make, but it was the best for our safety".
In the same way, Alonso does not believe the points awarded today are true and ironically takes the surreal situation that happened today on the track:
"Terrible day, to be honest, for everyone. Well, for some of them it’s probably a little Christmas, because there were some gifts for some people, I think, since we didn’t run. However, you keep the position and the points obtained".
Among the many unusual and particular situations that this particular Belgian Grand Prix offers, one of the strangest is the one that concerned the fastest lap in the race, initially attributed to the Russian driver Nikita Mazepin. Then, however, at a later time the fastest lap of the race will not be awarded. This is because, with the red flag on display at the end of the third lap, the results that are authentic are those of the first lap, being the penultimate before the one in which the interruption was sanctioned. A loophole in the regulation, but it could have opened the door to rather special scenarios. In the only completed lap, of course, the fastest was Max Verstappen. So there were those who assumed that the Dutch driver of Red Bull could be entitled to another half point more, for the fast lap in the race. However, Helmut Marko himself manages to answer the question.
"We will check, we would have liked to get half a point more".
In fact, if we read the regulation carefully, we can see why it is not being allocated. In point 6.4 of the sports regulations, in fact, it is clear the writing: fastest valid lap time of the race. Since there is no explicit explanation of the term, and since it is the only lap taken for the purpose of the result started from the pit-lane, no driver will be the holder of the fastest lap. Micheal Masi, as evidenced by his statements made after the conclusion of what is until now the shortest Grand Prix ever held in the history of Formula 1, says that he tried to do everything possible to make sure that the race actually took place, but the weather got the better:
"It’s been a long day. Actually, today we saw the worst of the weather. The conditions were not the best throughout the weekend, we only had windows where we could get the activity on track - but today I think the weather has a bit better on us".
The race director also states that the reason why the cars took to the track the last moments for those two laps behind the safety car, before it was again displayed red flag again and the race canceled, is all in a favorable window that presented itself to the last and that may have allowed to run:
"It was to see what the conditions were like. In fact, we are in constant contact with our official weather operators and there was a window where it seemed possible to run. We have an obligation to give everyone ten minutes' notice, so we said, okay, let’s see if we can find that window. And a number of teams said the same thing. They saw that window, and they saw exactly what we were trying to do to find it, but then the weather came on and got the better of us, again".
Many commentators and journalists inside the paddock are beginning to wonder if maybe it would not have been better to cancel the event directly, without making the two laps behind the safety car, and postpone the full race to Monday. And so, the question arises: it was not possible to postpone the race to the next day? The answer comes directly from Masi:
"We can’t postpone the race until tomorrow. We looked for every opportunity available within the rules, within the provisions of the International Sports Code to have the best favourable condition and be able to play a full race. Unfortunately for this occasion we could not have a race that would cover the entire distance, but with the provisions and the International Sports Code stopping the clock was all we could do to try to see if we could in that favourable weather window and allow some activity on the track".
Actually, there are many reasons why the race could not have taken place the next day, starting from the logistical problems that this would have entailed, considering also the fact that the next race - the one on the Zandvoort circuit - is scheduled for the following weekend. Not to mention the fact that the weather would still be uncertain, or the fact that many marshals are volunteers, Thus, they have a craft that regularly occupies them during the week and many of the spectators could not have stayed until the next day for similar reasons to this one. In short, to conclude, we can argue that everything possible has been done to allow this race to start and that, despite the efforts of the race director and all those involved in the management of the event, it has not been possible to do much, but in the words of Michael Masi:
"At least something has been done".