Apologies for the absence of some post-Spa comment but it has been difficult to find the right words to reflect on a disappointing day in modern Formula 1 history.
How to react to a race that wasn’t a race by any definition except the spurious wording of the sporting regulations that allow three laps under the safety car (completed under a red flag…) to count as a grand prix?
While some fans will always believe that racing should be possible in the rain and that conditions at Spa were not so bad that they couldn’t have at least tried, I’m of the opinion the FIA made the right decision not to start the grand prix.
Daniel Ricciardo pointed out that there comes a point where driver skill has nothing to do with it, you’re just riding your luck – whether that’s waiting to hit a puddle that suddenly throws the car off-track, or picking your way through the spray to suddenly find a car parked in front of you.
We have seen the consequences of both at Spa. Both end in frightening crashes. Only two years ago, one incident ended in a fatality.
I wonder if the race would have started at any other circuit. I think it might have. But there is no blanket rule – the race director is absolutely right to judge every situation on its own merits and that means taking into account the track layout. Spa is high-speed and at Eau Rouge/Raidillon it has a blind crest. There may be no more dangerous circuit in F1 for conditions like that.
Obviously where F1 got it badly wrong was the immediate handling of the situation for the paying fans who waited heroically in the rain and cold for…nothing. To call that a race, to award half-points, to hold a podium ceremony was simply insulting. There is no doubt in my mind that a refund of some kind is essential. How that was missed by F1 in the immediate aftermath and replaced by a weird justification of what they did is beyond me.
So how will it be fixed?
That cannot be reversed but it can be corrected with proper compensation. F1 and the Belgian GP are working on it and assessing various options. I don’t think the fans will be refunded their Sunday tickets because the Formula 3 and Porsche Supercup races went ahead. I think it will either be a partial refund – up to 50%, maybe? – or there will be a discount for 2022 tickets. Maybe some kind of combination of both.
I don’t know for sure I just know that Spa cannot afford to bear the cost of total refunds for every paying ticketholder and based on the way Sunday was handled I’d be surprised if F1 took that loss themselves either when they made it clear the tickets are not actually their responsibility.
Getting this right will be a crucial part of whether F1 can move on from one of its worst days in living memory.
What will help is the Dutch Grand Prix and another one in Italy next weekend. If you’re going to cause an uproar among fans, it’s more convenient to do it at the start of a triple-header. There are more fans to replace the angry ones with over the next two weeks and many more storylines to generate that will bury the bad stuff.
I write that with no satisfaction, just some blunt realism. It’s important that Spa’s not forgotten and that appropriate action is taken. But in the meantime there is a race weekend to prepare for and hopefully the fans have some on-track action to savour. A rare benefit of last weekend’s antics is that the title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen is now even closer with just three points between them! I expect a raucous crowd for Verstappen’s first-ever ‘proper’ home grand prix and a frosty reception for his rival.
Going off-track again we have had news of Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement. I’ve always been gutted to have missed Kimi’s first career as my professional time in F1 coincided with his second stint at Ferrari and then the move to Alfa Romeo.
He has not been the driver I was blown away by in the 2000s and at Ferrari he always seemed particularly disappointing – but I remember being impressed by him during 2018, when he seemed to have found another gear, was performing the best he had been since rejoining the Scuderia, and of course won the United States GP.
He suggested after that race he had proven some people wrong. I remember asking him whether that was inside the team or just critics – he said it wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular, it was just a satisfying thing to have done.
Raikkonen’s no-nonsense, unique character endeared himself to many fans and frustrated many journalists! I have to admit I’ve found him annoying at times because while some of his remarks are genuinely funny others have been a little rude or unprofessional – but I get it, it’s Kimi, you take the rough with the smooth.
I have to stress that whenever I’ve asked him a serious question he has not ducked it. Kimi is the sort of driver who switches into auto-pilot when he hears a banal question for the 1000th time. If you ask him something he has to think about, however briefly, he is actually very sincere and engaging.
I’ll miss Raikkonen. I still believe it was right for him to have been replaced at Ferrari a few years ago but I’m very glad he stayed in F1. He still had something to offer and as a driver and a personality he will be really hard to replace.