A Historic “Race”


George Russell earned his first ever podium in a race that set the record for Formula One’s shortest in its 71 year history. (Courtesy of Twitter)

This past weekend, the 2021 Formula 1 season returned from its summer break for the Belgium Grand Prix. After the mandatory three week summer break, the paddock headed to the circuit Spa-Francorchamps with its famous corners for one of the best, and the longest, track of the year. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton led their respective standings and were looking to extend that lead while Red Bull and Max Verstappen were ready to claw back after two races where a Mercedes driver ruined their chances to not only win but score points.

Heading into the weekend, it was predicted to rain on Saturday for qualifying and on Sunday for the race. When it was time for qualifying, the forecast was absolutely spot on, with the circuit getting absolutely drenched. This meant that the cars equipped the wet tires, but the drivers needed to be extra focused. If a driver was off the racing line for even a tenth of a second, it could ruin their qualifying lap and even result in a crash. After the first two qualifying sections, it was time for Q3, the top 10 shootout for pole.

By this time, the rain was getting worse to the point where several drivers were saying on the radio that the session should be red-flagged until the conditions were better. Several of the drivers were even aquaplaning due to the heavy rain. One of those drivers was McLaren’s Lando Norris. He ended up losing control on his flying lap at Eau Rouge and had a massive shunt into the barriers, immediately bringing out the red flag and ruining his qualifying where he was potentially in contention for pole. Norris was transported to the hospital for precautionary checks and cleared to race on Sunday.

Once qualifying resumed, the attention turned to the timing screens as Hamilton took provisional pole after the first run, with both Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and Verstappen right behind him. When it was time for the final run, we saw Williams’ George Russell lapping half a second faster than Hamilton in the first sector alone. Let that sink in. A Williams not only got into Q3, but was lapping half a second faster in the first sector than the reigning champions. As Russell continued his final lap, he was setting purple sectors as all of a sudden people realized that he might be on for his first career pole. Russell then took provisional pole and waited for the rest of the drivers to finish their laps.

Hamilton was unable to improve and remained behind Russell. However, Verstappen had an almighty lap and was able to get pole by three tenths with Russell now in second followed by Hamilton in third. Bottas qualified in eighth but due to his penalty from his accident in Hungary, he was going to start from 13th.

Russell, also called “Mr. Saturday,” has been able to drag that Williams into positions that should be considered impossible. In addition to that, there are rumors that he may replace Bottas at Mercedes and partner with Hamilton for next season. This performance did not hurt his chances to claim one of the hottest seats of the paddock.

When it came time for the race, it was absolutely pouring. Perez actually crashed on the way to the grid and had to retire due to the damage. The race stewards were constantly delaying the start in the hope that the weather would get better. Unfortunately that was not the case. The race started under the safety car and was shortly red flagged. 

Once a race starts, it must be completed in under three hours. No one knew what was going to happen for two hours after the red flag. The race stewards then made an unprecedented action to pause the timer with force majeure. In the regulations, the stewards have the authority to pause the timer due to extreme weather conditions. After a long wait, the decision was made to resume the race. Red Bull mechanics were able to repair Perez’s car during the delay and he was allowed to race, albeit in last.

Now according to the regulations, at least two laps of racing must happen for points to be rewarded. However, if the race concludes with less than 75% of the laps completed, half points will be given. The race resumed under the safety car and after two laps of “racing”, it was red flagged and called off. 

Therefore Verstappen won the race with Russell getting his first ever podium and Williams’ first since the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Hamilton rounded out the podium in third. This was the shortest race in F1 history with a time of three minutes and 27 seconds. This was also the sixth time that half points have been given in the 71 year history of Formula 1, the last time back in 2009 at the Malaysian Grand Prix. 

You can take a look at the standings here. After this interesting race, the next one is this week at Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix. Verstappen will look to continue his winning ways but also top his home race. Hopefully, this race will be longer than two laps as the 2021 F1 season continues to surprise at every track.