Farce and mockery: Belgian GP spectators react to F1’s Safety Car parade at Spa

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

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Last weekend tens of thousands of disappointed and soaked Formula 1 fans left Spa-Francorchamps without having seen a single racing lap in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Efforts to stage the race were abandoned due to the pouring rain. Fans at the track waited hours in dreadful conditions to see a short parade behind the Safety Car followed by a podium ceremony.

RaceFans spoke to two spectators who were in the crowd last weekend. While neither took issue with the decision not to start the race on safety grounds, both were unimpressed with how Formula 1 and the organisers handled the debacle.

Isabelle Rémond-Tiedrez and her partner travelled from Luxembourg to Spa. The family shelled out over €1,500 between them on a post-pandemic birthday trip with their British-based son.

“It was supposed to be an unforgettable and great day for our youngest kid as a gift for his 20th birthday to come at Christmas,” she told RaceFans. “As he goes back soon to UK for his studies, the timing was perfect.

Unsuccessful attempts were made to dry the track
“We paid €500 each to watch the GP “farce”, as Lewis Hamilton said. We fully agree that the safety of the drivers is key, but the organisation did on purpose to make us wait three hours and those two laps.

“As a result our son Gabriel was so disappointed and we seem to have failed to make him happy. Of course it will be an unforgettable day for him but not for the good reasons.”

János Henkelmann drove around 70 kilometres from Stolberg in Germany to attend last weekend’s race with his nephews, aged 10 and 13.

“As all the drivers pointed out, the conditions were lousy throughout the afternoon and I don’t think the race would have been longer than a few laps had it eventually been started,” he told RaceFans. “I guess it’s just not in a racing driver’s DNA to go slowly, even in the pouring rain, and at some point there would have been a big shunt, surely. Safety is obviously paramount and as a fan I’m in no position to expect the drivers to risk their lives.

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“[FIA Medical Car driver] Alan van der Merwe was the real hero on Sunday as he gave it full beans on the straight every time he went out to see if the conditions had improved.”

He believes FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi did see a genuine opportunity to restart the race when the conditions improved slightly later in the afternoon.

Podium ceremony felt like “pure mockery”
“The rain had indeed eased a little bit for about 10 minutes when they tried to finally start the race at about six o’clock. It was the first time since the early afternoon that you could see the forest on the opposite side of the track behind Blanchimont and not just clouds and mist.

“I genuinely believe that Masi wanted the cars to race and that he saw a legitimate chance of finally getting the grand prix under way. At that point that was the maximum he could do.”

The second and final attempt to start the race was swiftly abandoned, however. As no racing had taken place, Henkelmann found it strange to see Formula 1 carry out its usual podium ceremony.

“We left the track after the race had finally been suspended for good and as we walked past Eau Rouge, the iconic overture from Carmen was playing over the public address system. It felt like pure mockery that they even bothered to stage a podium ceremony.

“When we came home I visited the promoter’s website to see if there was any news or communication on the situation from their side and I was stunned to see that they had already put their terms and conditions on their start page, as if they subtly wanted to tell everyone: ‘Fuck you! We had a race and you’re not getting a penny back.'”

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“While freezing in the rain next to the Kemmel straight and seeing the cheering crowds in the grandstand at the start/finish line I realised that while F1 is and always will be the sport I love the most, it’s also a sport for the elites, i.e. for people who are able to pay over €500 for a ticket and have a dry seat,” he added. “I’m too young to tell if that has always been the case but it certainly shouldn’t be now and even less so in the future.”

After hours of rain the race was abandoned
“In my opinion, F1 cannot continue to thrive if it doesn’t take care of the ‘normal fan’,” said Henkelmann. “What if – instead of repeatedly saying how sorry everyone was for the fans – they had send out the cars to do some demonstration laps after suspending the race? My nephews were so excited when they finally saw the cars, albeit only for a couple of laps behind the safety car. It would have made their day (and helped them forget about waiting three hours in the rain) to see some more track action at least.

“So, as a result of what we saw – or rather didn’t see – on Sunday, I hope the most prominent voices in F1 (drivers, team bosses, commentators) make their voices heard on behalf of the fans and somehow convince the promoter or the management or both to refund us or to give us free tickets for next year. Because after all, we paid to see a race and there was none.”

Read an in-depth analysis of what went wrong during last weekend’s farcical Belgian Grand Prix in today’s edition of the RacingLines column later today on RaceFans

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Farce and mockery: Belgian GP spectators react to F1’s Safety Car parade at Spa”

  1. I understand feeling disapointed, and I’m glad that they acknowledge that safety is paramount. What I don’t get is why they blame F1 for “making them wait” when it’s pretty obvious you’re not just going to cancel outright until you’re absolutely sure there’s no window for racing.

    Similarly, “demonstration laps” under these conditions would’ve been just as stupid.

    I get asking for your money back, you should, but everything else was better left unsaid. F1 doesn’t control the weather, the situation was what it was.

    1. @GloomSwoop The FIA deliberately went beyond the advertised 3-hour window in the search for a window. Because of this, some people missed their public transport connections. This is not just a bad weather day.

  2. Hello Keith,

    My wife and I also attended the F1 weekend in Belgium. On top of the lack of proper race, it would be good to mention the parking situation. We stayed at a Hotel close to Liege Airport and commuted every day to the track.
    We didn’t have any major issues getting in on Friday and Saturday and park our car (we were at the Exit 10 on E42 around 9:10am). We were in the Yellow parking area. Getting out on Friday was smooth. On Saturday, we were stuck in the parking lot for one hour, but then managed to get out of the lot by another exit. We saw some cars getting stuck on Saturday.
    Things went pear shaped on Sunday. We were at the Exit 10 on E42 around 9:10am too. The queues started around 2km before the exit. It took 3 hours to do those 2 kms to reach the exit. Given how slowly the line was moving, we were concerned we would miss the start. Therefore, we elected to turn around and watch the race at our hotel. Little did we know that we took a brilliant decision that would avoid waiting hours in the cold rain for nothing.
    The heavy rain over the previous weeks made the car parks “vulnerable”. More rain on Friday and Saturday meant that most normal car parks became unusable by Sunday morning after cars went over the grass. As a result, people were sent to other car parks. However, it was clear there were not enough car parks. Moving less than 1km per hour indicated something was clearly wrong.

    It would be great if you and Dieter could relay problems with the parking situation so the promoter issues a “post-mortem” (explain what went wrong and what they’re going to do about it). I was at Paul Ricard in 2018 when the parking situation was a complete disaster. The promoter issued a post-mortem explaining the measures they would take going forward.

    Best Regards,

    1. Here is a French article also commenting on the disastrous parking situation https://m.rtl.be/info/1321528 @keithcollantine

      1. @paeschli thanks we did not even make it to the parking lot on Sunday to see the mudlands. On Saturday there was mud but it did not look out of control in our lot.

      2. Also seem to mee, every year more and more big cars (suv’s) taking up more space and destroying the grasland into a mud pool.

    2. I kinda assumed this is “normal”?

      The one race I ever attended, at Nürburgring, we elected to show up at 9am, and leaving the parking lot took about 90 minutes, with another hour or so to get from the track area to the highway.

      1. It’s normal for tracks that use grass parking areas when there’s heavy rain. It’s very much the exception for F1 nowadays (Silverstone was forced to convert to all-tarmac parking during the early 2000s).

        1. @alianora-la-canta Silverstone certainly does NOT have all tarmac parking. I parked in a slopey field for Friday Practice/Sprint at the circuit this year. They have improved many of the access roads though since that race in 2000 (which I also attended).

          1. @asanator I thought it had all gone by my visit in 2009. Thank you for correcting me!

  3. Seems to me that the race was concluded only to satisfy the existing FIA procedures and regulations…in bare minimum way possible. But just because it will eventually look OK on paper does not mean that it had done anything for the sport or the fans. If racing was indeed impossible, at a very minimum they should have withdrawn the points. OK, the two-lap rule was met, but nobody should get points for following the safety car for less than seven kilometers…no green flag laps…no points!

  4. It is milking the subject to the max I see.
    Strange that all those pieces hardly mention the attempt to look for compensation by the organisation.
    Nothing yet, but they are trying to find a solution at least.

    1. The cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix was not only a disappointment for the fans and Formula 1 teams, also Vanessa Maes was very disappointed with the situation. The organiser of the event will try to find a way to give back to the fans.

      1. 1. I am surprised there is no insurance for this sort of thing.

        2. Any refunds etc… should not fall down solely on the promoter. They already have the roughest deal in F1, making the least profit (if any) from all the involved parties.

        1. Refunds should fall on Hamilton, for speaking out, according to some, LOL.

    2. Initially the powers-that-be said they weren’t “looking for a solution”, and it looks like some force compelled them to change tack. This is likely to be why the nature of the response has received little detail so far.

  5. The podium ceremony was the sporting equivalent of getting drunk and putting on loud music at a funeral.

    Tone dead doesn’t even begin to cover it. Absolute stupidity.

  6. It would be in very poor taste for the fans to receive no refunds. Whatever the terms and conditions they bought tickets to see a race that did not take place.

    This episode has shown how little regard F1 has for spectators with Stefano Domenicali rattling out some nonsense about “maximum attention for the fans” while at the same time stating that they shouldn’t not receive refunds. On the F1 Nation podcast Tom Clarkson and Natalie Pinkham came out with “I do feel so sorry for the fans, but how good were they. They never stopped smiling and dancing. Maybe they’re a little bit angry now about not seeing a race and the money they’ve spent but It’s one of those races that goes down in history as “do you remember when?” and if you were there down the line they’ll think “I was there!” I don’t think any of them left angry, they were in great spirits!”

    These people must think paying spectators are utter plebs!

    1. @jackisthestig Apparently none of them have heard of putting on a brave face (especially families that brought children to the race and were trying to keep them calm ahead of the long journey home).

  7. That first remark is just really over the top, elite blabber about how much money.

    Then it get’s better.
    F1 should ‘read the room’ as they say.
    Throw in some show, be open.

    And give a part of the sunday ticket price back or a year free F1 tv subscribtion.

  8. F1 management shows, yet again, it’s inability to respond in anymore than corporate terms, rather than those who attend and support year in, year out. The result is another PR disaster, where their credibility is lessened further.

  9. I am surprised by the attitude of the fans etc. They bought the tickets knowing full well this was an outdoor event. The risk was clear.

    The promoter laid out the money, got the circuit ready, hired the Marshall’s, staff, etc. Why would you punish them now becuase it happened to rain? Do you not want future Belgain GP’s? Do you want the cost of cancellation insurance added to the ticket prices in future?

    Really stop whinging, you agreed to the terms when you bought the ticket. Be glad there is a Belgium race and support the promoter – don’t run the event into the ground with your unfair demands.

    1. Because the promoters broke their own regulations and in some cases caused them more expenses because of the delay, perhaps? (In other words, the ticket-holders did not agree to the terms because the part not written on the ticket changed after arrival).

      1. Also note that some people were unable to even get to the track due to car park issues (when you buy parking tickets, you don’t get told what sort of parking it is in advance, and these days most tracks are all-tarmac parking. Grass parking is considered quaint and un-F1).

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