Max Verstappen has spoken up for the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium which has faced criticism over its safety standards since the death of Dilano Van ’T Hoff last weekend.fatal crash during a Formula Regional European Championship.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll said the Eau Rouge corner on the circuit is “way too dangerous” and “needs some changing” following the fatality. Verstappen pointed out Van ’T Hoff’s crash happened beyond the famous corner, at the kink in the Kemmel straight, and claimed the section of track is safer than parts of other, much newer circuits.
“It’s, for sure, quite a dangerous corner but we also go to Jeddah and sector one at that, for me, is probably more dangerous, even,” Verstappen said in response to Stroll’s remarks.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit, which hosts the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, was added to the F1 calendar in 2021. “I’m happy that nothing has happened yet in that sector because going through (turns) six, seven, eight if you have a shunt there that can be the same – it’s all blind, you don’t know what’s coming,” said Verstappen.
Footage of the crash, which occured in very wet conditions, indicates Van ‘T Hoff struck a barrier and bounced into the path of oncoming cars when he was hit by another driver, Adam Fitzgerald, who was unsighted in the spray.
“It’s super-dangerous when these things happen,” Verstappen continued. “For sure, in Eau Rouge, going up it is blind, but of course this accident now happened later [along the track]. I think the only thing that maybe can be improved there is to make more space in terms of trying to move the barriers more out, because at the moment, it looks like as soon as you crash, you hit the barrier, you bounce back onto the track quite easily.
“Of course with that scenario, where there is almost no visibility, a lot of water, that is of course a big issue. I think in the dry, normally, it’s a bit better. You see, of course, more of what is going on in front of you.”
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Another fatality occured at Spa in 2019 when Anthoine Hubert was killed in a Formula 2 race during the Belgian Grand Prix. His crash occured in similar circumstances at the Raidillon bend immediately after Eau Rouge. The circuit has since extended the run-off areas at that section of track.
“I think already the changes they made in Spa, they definitely opened it up a lot more,” said Verstappen. “But it will always be a dangerous corner.
“But we are going to a lot of tracks where there are dangerous corners, where up until probably there is an accident, you won’t say anything. And now of course it gets brought up, but I feel it’s a bit unfair to just blame it on the track.”
Verstappen questioned why the race, in which 34 cars were running, was restarted in such poor conditions immediately before the crash. Van ‘T Hoff was one of at least two drivers who spun off on the Kemmel straight.
“I think in the first place you have to look into why did they restart. It’s a big championship, a lot of cars. They are up-and-coming talents, they probably risk a bit more, because they want to show every race that they are the best driver out there.
“With that visibility, it was just impossible to see anything and I know, of course, when you’re going there, you don’t see anything. You’re like, ‘well, I guess the guy in front of me is flat so I just stay flat-out. And that’s probably exactly what happened there.
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“The drivers are just staying flat because they didn’t know there was a car in the wall and then another car in the wall later on. So yeah, there are a lot of things that have to come together, what we have to improve.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc echoed Verstappen’s concerns about restarting races in conditions where visibility is poor.
“The first thing to look at is when to start a race and in which conditions we are happy to race and it’s safe to race,” said Leclerc. He pointed out current cars, even in junior categories, create more downforce than they did 30 years ago which increases the spray produced in wet races.
He also reinforced Verstappen’s view that more run-off space is needed at some tracks F1 visits. “Maybe to consider for these tracks with very, very high speeds, to have the walls further away from the track, so when they lose the car, they don’t bounce on the wall and come back on the track.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez agreed “there is room to improve the exit of Eau Rouge still” but also suggested race directors feel pressured to restart races. “[They’re] pushed by, probably, fans and social media, people sitting back at home thinking that the circuit looks fine to race,” he said.
“It’s not about the [visibility for] leader or the second place; it’s about the 10th, 15th, 20th. Basically, they need to be able to see,” he added.
“It’s something that we really need to force other categories and also in Formula 1 to make sure that we are able to race whenever it’s safe for everyone to see at least. Accidents can happen but you cannot have situations where drivers are basically blind and just going flat-out, because it’s when those big accidents can happen in any series.”
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