Clement Novalak, Trident, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021

30-car Formula 3 grids “should not be allowed” on safety grounds, warns Russell

2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Mercedes driver and Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director George Russell believes Formula 3 grid sizes are too large to race safely at tracks like Spa-Francorchamps.

The Belgian Grand Prix weekend is expected to be heavily affected by rain. Today’s practice sessions for F1’s leading junior categories F3 and F2 took place in wet conditions.

Wet racing at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is under particular scrutiny this weekend following a tragic accident in a Formula Regional European Championship race at the track at the start of the month which claimed the life of 18-year-old driver Dilano van ‘t Hoff. He died following a restart in a wet race contested by 34 cars.

Formula 1 has encountered extremely wet conditions at Spa in recent years. The 2021 was effectively abandoned after just three Safety Car laps due to safety concerns as a result of persistent heavy rain.

Speaking ahead of opening practice, Russell emphasised the dangers posed by running on a heavy wet surface on the high-speed, undulating Spa circuit.

“I think two years ago that was the correct decision to call the race off,” Russell told media including RaceFans.

“I think for one single Formula 1 car to drive around, the conditions are safe enough and suitable enough to drive. But it’s when you’ve got 20 cars on track at once, anybody from third position backwards literally cannot see from here to the end of this wall away – so you’re talking 20, 30, 40 metres.

“I felt like the incident that happened in [FREC], it was only really a matter of time that something like that happened. Drivers aren’t going flat-out in the straight because they can’t see, somebody gets rear-ended and then there’s a car in the middle of a track. Obviously to have a race cancelled is not perfect for anybody, but we don’t want to see another huge incident as we’ve just seen.”

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This weekend will see 30 drivers competing in the penultimate round of the F3 championship. Russell admitted he has concerns about young drivers potentially racing in similar conditions to the FRECA race in which a fatal accident occurred a matter of weeks ago.

George Russell, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
“F3 should not be allowed out with 30 cars on track” – Russell
“I fear a little bit for the junior categories with F3 out on track,” Russell said. “I truly think F3 should not be allowed out with 30 cars on track at one time at any point – even in dry conditions. Again, I feel like it’s a matter of time before a big incident happens too.”

Williams driver Logan Sargeant competed in the last F3 race held in the wet in Spa in 2021, on the same day as F1’s curtailed grand prix. Asked by RaceFans about his thoughts on the safety risks posed by wet conditions, Sargeant recalled his own experiences from 2021.

“I remember that was the year F1 got cancelled and we were driving in some pretty, honestly, questionable conditions,” he said. “In a situation like that, it definitely wasn’t nice.

“You can’t see the edge of the track, you can’t see your front wing, you can’t see the brake markers, you can’t see the car in front of you. You’re just driving flat-out into a wall of white mist. So honestly, in that situation, I think it’s getting to the point where it’s a bit too much. I think this track in particular, I guess the history makes it a bit more scary.”

Sargeant admitted the lack of visibility in the wet at Spa has been one of the most frightening experiences he has had behind the wheel of a racing car.

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“You’re driving flat up through Eau Rouge, but you don’t feel like you should be going flat-out – that’s for sure,” he explained. “You don’t know what’s on the other side, and that’s never nice. It’s the one condition in racing that I can actually feel the scare of it, to be honest.”

Sargeant encountered dire conditions at Spa in 2021
Decisions on whether conditions are safe enough to race in ultimately down to FIA’s race control team. The FIA has overhauled this area of its operation since 2021, installing Niels Wittich as race director, moving Nikolas Tomnbazis into the role of single-seater director and hiring Steve Nielsen from Formula 1 to serve as sporting director earlier this year.

Russell stressed he has confidence in their abilities to make the correct choices to keep drivers safe. “I think the way the FIA goes about things now is probably better than it has been in the recent past,” he said. “It all seems a bit more organised with Nikolas at the helm there.

“Then with Steve Nielsen, who I think has been a really great addition to the FIA, Neils was thrown into the role. I think it’s just having that open dialogue. There is good communication between us now – better than it’s ever been.

“We all want decisions and answers ‘yesterday’ – the fact is we’re not going to find a solution for poor visibility for probably years to come. It’s challenging. It’s really not easy.”

With Formula 1 having two races this weekend with Saturday’s sprint race, Sargeant says he will race in whatever conditions he is asked to.

“At the end of the day, if we go to race, we go to race,” he stressed. “I’m never going to not be flat-out. It just is what it is. You have to live with it and go for it.

“To be honest, I trust that they’ll make the right decision and I think a lot of it will come down to what we’re saying on the radio back to the teams.”

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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13 comments on “30-car Formula 3 grids “should not be allowed” on safety grounds, warns Russell”

  1. The consequence here would be you decrease the supply of seats and maintain demand, thus prices go up even higher for drivers. So if it is found that 20 cars grids are demonstrably safer than that would be need to be mitigating or we further entrench a lack of opportunity within the sport for young drivers. I guess you would need to have heats and finals. Two sprint races and you then qualify for the final. I am not sure if that’s financial sustainable for drivers not regularly reaching the main event though, not in today’s world.

    I am not anti-safety, but we always need to be aware of unintended consequences and mitigate accordingly. This is similarly what happened with ther Super Licence. In an attempt to stop too young and inexperienced drivers entering F1, the sport created a scenario where young drivers have to spend longer in junior categories and spending a LOT more money than they may have otherwise needed to. Max’s spend in his one year in cars is much lower than what is expected of young drivers nowadays.

  2. Would you give up your own drive for safety? F1 would also be safer with 19 cars instead of 20, following the logic. If not, spare me…

    1. That line of thought only works if you also believe George can prevent Mercedes from filling the seat and/or prevent the FIA from responding by forcing the seat to be filled/requiring someone else fill in the gap.

  3. Nothing wrong with having 30 cars simultaneously circling in dry conditions.

  4. Makes sense, would reduce the chances of a collision, and who cares who’s 27th anyway?

    There must be a solution that fits in the schedule – heats, multiple races or wet/dry alternative plans, according to the venue. A bit like the IMSA sportscar series. I agree a 14-car grid would look a bit lost on a sunny day at Silverstone.

  5. I don’t really believe that the grid size has caused any significant additional safety problems over the years.

    I mean I don’t believe there has been any more problems in F3 with 30 cars as there has been in F2 with 22.

  6. Personal feelings like georges are always biassed. They should be supported by metrics , simulations or studies for example before deciding on important changes

  7. How many cars entered in the Spa 24 hours? 72 cars?
    And those GT cars are typically much bigger than F3 cars…

    Visibility isn’t any better in those in the wet, either.

  8. Let’s hope no one shows George footage of the Spa 24 hours.

    1. @red-andy The Spa 24 Hours has slower cars that kick up less spray each. They also tend to separate more readily than spec single-seaters do due to the class divisions. I doubt George has much issue with the Spa 24H provided it is run to the inherent limitations of the cars and drivers racing in it.

      1. Of course he doesn’t have much of an issue with GT series as he doesn’t have any links with them.
        But that doesn’t change the basis of his comment – the effects of having a lot of fast, highly aerodynamically active cars on the track at the same time are the same – thus the risks are the same to drivers, track workers and spectators.
        It matters not whether they are single-seaters or anything else.

        Perhaps you haven’t ever seen the event to know that it is, in fact, at least as bad as F3 – and honestly, likely substantially worse.

  9. “too large to race safely at tracks like Spa-Francorchamps”

    What’s the logic here? Spa is one of the longest permanent race tracks in the world. If any place can handle big grids, it’s Spa. Never mind that it’s not true as many series have plenty more cars and can race just fine, even on shorter tracks.

    There’s also no mystery as to what generates the spray that makes racing in the rain so tricky. Some things just can’t be ‘fixed’. If you want 5 meter long, 2 meter wide cars travelling at 300km/h and generate most of their downforce from underbody aerodynamics… you’re going to have a ton of spray.

    1. The logic is to do with specific corners and track features, for specific series and implicitly also driver experience levels, to some extent in specific weather conditions – and how they interact. Lots of shorter tracks have fewer problems with wet conditions for high-spray-generating vehicles than Spa.

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