While the most famous words in motorsports might just be "Gentleman (and ladies), start your engines," there are 10 words that no promoter ever wants to hear.
On the other side of that coin, seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton uttered those 10 words—10 words certain to make a promoter cringe—to a world-wide audience following the absurd F1 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday. .
"I really hope the fans get their money back today," Hamilton said.
There. He said it.
The race was a debacle. There's no argument there. Fans got to see rain-delayed formation lap, a parade lap and then got to experience a 3-hour, 17-minute rain delay all for the fun of watching two more parade laps of Formula 1 cars tooling around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit behind the F1 Safety Car (that's Pace Car for those unfamiliar with F1).
That was it. That was what the people got for their time and money.
It was the shortest race in F1 history by any metric and the only race with zero green-flag laps. The Safety Car led every lap.
Many fans sat on grassy (they became more muddy than grassy by day's end) hillsides overlooking the track waiting for something, anything, to happen. Finally the FIA and Formula 1 sent out the Safety Car for a few laps seemingly to entertain the fans as much as confirm that it was still raining.
It's safe to say fans spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars or Euros on travel, tickets, lodging, food and parking all so that they could sit in the mud. Many probably had even more fun pushing their cars out of the mud from once-grassy parking lots.
Formula 1 used to be a series that would race in any weather. Yes, tire supplier Pirelli brings rain tires. However, ever since the death of Jules Bianchi as the result of a crash in the rain at Suzuka, Japan, in 2014 (Bianchi died from his injuries nine months later), F1 has been more prone to break out the red flag in times of rain.
It's not the grip and the quality of racing that is so much the issue, it's the spray from the backs of the cars that leaves those behind the leaders literally flying blind at times. No, it's not safe. And, no one is advocating racing at all costs and that the health of the drivers be damned.
TV pundits felt F1 had options. Why not come back and try again on Monday? NASCAR has had rain push back races to Monday (or even later) because of rain. Even the Indianapolis 500 has been known to take place a day or more later because of rain.
Formula 1 does race this week, but it's at Zandvoort, Netherlands—just a little more than a 3-hour drive away. That's practically next door for a Formula 1 series used to a world-wide travel schedule. Seems like that they'd have time to make the next race, even with a delay until Monday. Worst case, push their schedule back to where practice and qualifying are on Saturday, race on Sunday.
Instead, F1 decided to finish the race at Spa on Sunday—even if it meant not having a race at all.
The fans' plight was not lost on Lewis Hamilton.
"Firstly, I feel really sorry for the fans today," Hamilton said after being awarded third place in the race based on his qualifying position from Saturday. "Obviously it’s no one’s fault with this weather, but the fans have been incredible today to stick with us this whole time and hold out for a potential race. 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, which is the minimum requirement for a race.
"I really hope the fans get their money back today."
The FIA said there hands were tied.
"Following the significant weather disruption to the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix, the FIA and Formula 1 are disappointed for all the fans at the track and at home that today’s race could not go to full distance, but the safety of the drivers, marshals and spectators must always be the priority," the FIA said in a post-race statement posted to its website. "The Decision of the Stewards to extend the window in which the race could take place gave every possible opportunity to maximize the day's running, but the weather conditions unfortunately did not improve sufficiently to complete more laps."
Hamilton just hopes that the absurdity of bringing the cars out after the rain delay just to parade around and get in the required two laps to make the race official was not driven by money.
"Well, there was no point at which we could race so there wasn’t a race, but there is a rule that says for it to be a legal race, it has to be—I think—a minimum of two laps so they knew that and they sent us out for two laps behind the safety car and that activates a bunch of things and I don’t know all the politics and the background but my most concern is that the fans should probably get their money back, I think," Hamilton said. "And I don’t know if by doing the two laps it means they don’t and that’s… I just don’t think that’s what we want. We have better values than that as a sport."
Max Verstappen was handed the win, based on qualifying from Saturday that ultimately set the parade order used in the final result.
"What can you say?" Verstappen said. "This is of course not what you like, especially not for the people at the side of the track, the fans. They expect a race. But the conditions today were not good. It just kept raining all the time. I think from 3 o’clock onwards it just got worse and worse and when you already start that late in the day there is not much room to move around, even though we still waited for like three hours.
"Unfortunately it didn’t improve. Of course when you are the leading car, the visibility is naturally a bit better, so it’s difficult on my side to judge how the others felt. I think at 3.30 I said it was OK to race from my side but of course the visibility behind was very bad and especially I think with the recent events you don’t want to risk a big shunt to happen or even you know the risk of it. It just didn’t feel right.
"Of course the fans won't agree with what happened today, but you also have to think about safety at the end."
So, is Hamilton right? Should fans get their money back at Spa? Start the discussion in the comments section below.