Many years have passed since the Formula 1 community hoped for an exciting and tight season. It has arrived this year. Tyres blowing up in Azerbaijan, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton fighting wheel-to-wheel, Valtteri Bottas bowling his rivals, Esteban Ocon winning his first Grand Prix… The season has had all the ingredients to serve a delicious hot meal though it got cold under the Belgian sky.
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It is always easier to say what could have been done differently after the storm; however, the image of confusion offered by the organisation does not represent a sport that aims to expand its fan and sponsor base worldwide.
Clarity was like the sun, invisible
Miscommunication was apparent from the very start. There is no doubt the situation was tricky for both the drivers and the organisation. People at the pinnacle of motorsport must have an ability to react and, therefore, give solutions or alternatives to its stakeholders and fans. That hardly happened during the Belgian GP, and such circumstance is simply unacceptable. There were thousands of fans soaked and cold but also televisions and media had to reschedule their broadcasting with little or no information, not to mention the mayhem it caused to the teams.
There was such a level of confusion that for a moment Red Bull was not sure if they could take out Checo Pérez car (not even the stewards knew it at first). It’s also worthwhile pointing out the havoc regarding the duration of the race, the sudden stop of the clock, or the maths to count the number of laps completed from the start to the end.
This is Formula 1, and it must reflect an image of sophistication and well-doing, including a clear explanation of the procedures and the “why” behind certain decisions. Unfortunately, the way they managed the situation looked a lot like a wild goose chase.
Call the shots sooner better than later
Way before the Belgian GP started, it was clear that the conditions were going to be challenging as the radar showed. It also stated that it was going to get worse before it got better and so it did. Rain was going nowhere and at that point, and with the race track totally sodden and with little visibility, the decision seemed pretty obvious.
Understandably, the race director explored all the possible scenarios to race, yet it was over-optimistic as the weather forecast kept predicting more rain. After the first red flag, the race should not have resumed, not only because of safety reasons but also because of all the fans that stood under the rain hoping to see some action. And by action, I mean actual racing, not following the safety car. In this regard, if the F1 management has a slight appreciation for its fans, it should give them the money back because what happened in Spa on Sunday was not a race.
If fans are not at the centre, then who is?
And at this point, one must wonder how important the fans are for Formula 1. Mother nature decided Spa was going to be wet and such circumstances are completely out of control. However, with the possibility of racing being as dark as the sky, the race should have been cancelled early on.
As a fan, it seems rather insulting to call something a “race” after running only three laps, and the fact that there is a rule that backs such a situation is worth reconsidering. Indeed, drivers like Carlos Sainz expressed his discomfort with being awarded points as he did not believe he actually raced.
Let’s not forget that Formula 1 owes its greatness to its fans. Thanks to them, televisions can pay thousands of euros to air (usually in private broadcasts) the competition as they know the engaged fan would watch the race from home, although one risks losing such faithful fans by ignoring them. And the same logic applies to sponsors, merchandising and race tracks. Without a fan, they would not exist.
Oddly enough, the ones that seem aware of the importance of the fans are precisely the ones who risk their lives every single Grand Prix. Unfortunately, they are not the ones who make the rules.
The image displayed to the world at the Belgian GP was quite a damaging one. If conditions do not allow racing, then it is better to call it quits rather than beating about the bush and declare a race was completed only after three laps. A rule that is hard to grasp. That could make new fans think twice before attending a race, and brands considering joining Formula 1 may now wonder if the publicity they want aligns with the cold show the sport offered in Spa.