Race Control had a tricky afternoon as rain battered Spa-Francorchamps; it mostly made the right calls, however unpopular they may be for viewers and spectators, but issuing half points was nothing short of farcical.
The fact that over 1,000 grand prix have been run in Formula 1 history and Sunday’s was by far the shortest highlighted the anomalous nature of the race.
In previous years Formula 1 has had washouts on Fridays or Saturdays, with practice scrapped or qualifying moved, as happened at the Nurburgring last year or Suzuka in 2019, when a typhoon rattled through the region. Had the typhoon struck on Sunday, not Saturday, a few of us pondered what sort of mess would have unfolded.
On Sunday there was an answer of sorts – it wasn’t a typhoon that struck Spa-Francorchamps but a relentless band of rain that sat above a misty and murky region.
The repeated delay, and uncertainty, did not paint Formula 1 in a positive manner but at least believing it could attempt a race was the right course of action. Had the race been called off at 4pm, and a drier and workable window opened at 6.30pm, it would have been even more farcical. The benefit of hindsight shows that wasn’t possible, and it was deeply unfortunate for spectators who shelled out a fortune, particularly given the events of the last 18 months, with last year’s Belgian Grand Prix held behind closed doors. It was also correct that Michael Masi opted against sending 20 drivers into a race with near zero visibility on a treacherous surface.
Where Formula 1 did stumble was in issuing half points for a race that, in the official classification, lasted just one lap. Three laps were completed, all behind the Safety Car, satisfying the obligation that two laps are run before points can be issued – even if the results are taken back to the end of lap one. Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali sternly dismissed the notion that commercial factors were at play, insisting two laps or zero laps made no difference.
But the result still meant Verstappen received 12.5 points for completing just one lap, behind the Safety Car, with the nine immediately behind him also adding to their tally.
Under Formula 1 regulations half points are awarded if more than two laps are completed but fewer than 75 per cent race distance reached. It meant that had the race got underway, and, for example, Verstappen had brilliantly mastered the awful conditions for 25 or so laps, he’d have got the same reward for his efforts: 12.5 points. No-one before Sunday would have realistically looked at that rule with much care, given that it had only been enacted on five previous occasions, and most recently in 2009. In that instance 31 of 56 laps were completed.
But now such a situation has happened it is clear it needs amending: perhaps a certain percentage of the race is needed under green, or a greater minimum overall distance before issuing half points. Three slow tours of the circuit, of which only one officially counts, surely cannot credibly count towards a world championship.
“I don’t think any points should be awarded for today,” said McLaren’s Lando Norris. “I think for how little we did today, [to do] X amount of racing laps, [or] we go out and we race for X amount of the race [is fine], but to drive around behind the safety car and then for people to get points…”
Fernando Alonso was also deeply critical of the outcome.
“Some of [the drivers], it was a little bit of an early Christmas because there were some gifts given today to some people,” he relayed. “We didn’t race but they still get the position and still get the points, so it’s actually shocking. I was P11, I was one place to the points. I was never allowed to fight for those points but they still gave the points. It’s shocking, in a way, but it’s the way it is.”
Norris missed out through virtue of his Q3 shunt and gearbox penalty, which put him 14th on the grid, while Alonso also left empty-handed, but those who departed Spa-Francorchamps with their tally bolstered also felt the same.
“That’s a joke,” said Sebastian Vettel, who erroneously believed 25 per cent race distance was needed for half points. “If you want to get a reward for qualifying you should get points for qualifying. What did we do today? I don’t know.”
“It is very, very weird to be awarded some points not having done any push laps,” said Charles Leclerc, whose Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz agreed.
“How far into the race [do you go so] you call it a race?” Sainz said. “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, I didn’t race, so I didn’t deserve the half a point I got, so I don’t know why I got it.”
“I don’t feel like I deserved any points today for what I’ve done,” said Pierre Gasly, who was sixth. “I just followed the safety car. I didn’t crash in the laps to the grid, but that’s the only thing I’ve done today. I don’t know if we deserved any points.”
The three-minute one-lap Belgian GP will go down in the history books for the wrong reasons, though safety was at least prioritised over the show. However, dishing out points for tootling behind the Safety Car shows that a couple of regulations need reworking.