Motor Sports

Verstappen wins rain-ruined two-lap Belgian GP, shortest race in history

F1 dirvers drive behind the safety car during preliminary laps as the race is postponed over rainy weather during the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 29, 2021. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium: Red Bull's Max Verstappen emerged as the winner of the rain-ruined Belgian Grand Prix with only two laps completed behind a safety car at a drenched and dangerous Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Pole-sitter Verstappen was awarded half points, which moved him to within three points of Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' championship after the shortest race in Formula One history.

Williams' George Russell took second with Hamilton's Mercedes in third after the 12th round of the season - all 14 kilometres of it.

Organisers finally gave the go-ahead for a rolling start behind a safety car at 18h30 local time (1630), three and a half hours after the scheduled 15h00 start.

But after a couple of laps with the spray flying the race was stopped with conditions deemed too dicy at the track where Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert lost his life in 2019.

The signs were ominous from the start of the afternoon in the Ardennes Forest when Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez aquaplaned on his way to the original start at Les Combes.

In the end Saturday's qualifying proved pivotal as Verstappen acknowledged.

"Now, in hindsight, it was important to get the pole position - but it was a shame not to do proper laps," said the Belgian born Dutch driver.

"The visibility was very low. It's a win but not really in the right way."

He paid tribute to the 75,000 umbrella-clutching die-hard fans, some eating soggy chips and mayonnaise but the bulk of them braving the conditions in support of their local favourite.

"Credit to the fans to stay here all day. In the cold and rain. They are the bigger winners today," said Verstappen.

Russell was celebrating his first F1 podium at his 50th race weekend.

"We don't often get a reward for a good qualifying but today we absolutely did," beamed the Briton.

- 'Sorry for the fans' -

"I feel so sorry for the fans today, obviously it's no one's fault but the fans have been great today," said seven-time world champion Hamilton.

The first attempt at racing came half an hour after the official start time with the safety car gingerly leading the 19 remaining cars on a formation lap.

But with drivers like McLaren's Lando Norris complaining of lack of visibility the red flag was raised signalling a suspension of the start procedure.

"There's no way. We can't race," Alpine's Fernando Alonso said.

Persistent heavy rain forced a further indefinite delay.

Organisers were anxiously watching their weather monitors and the sky for a break in the weather, notoriously mercurial at the majestic circuit.

Approaching two hours after the scheduled start the rain had still not relented.

Despite huge advances in car safety, organisers will have been very mindful of ensuring conditions were safe enough to resume at one of F1's most demanding port-of-calls.

During the delay drivers busied themselves filling in the wait in different ways - Russell taking to Twitter, Antonio Giovinazzi taking a nap on some Alfa Romeo crates, and Daniel Ricciardo leading a Mexican wave in the pitlane stand.

Track officials played petanque on a gravel run-off area.

And Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin's four-time former world champion, showed a neat touch in a two-a-side game of football against a Haas selection led by Mick Schumacher in the pits.

Thirty years ago at the same circuit, Schumacher's father Michael took the first steps on the road to becoming a F1 legend, picking up a spare drive for Jordan when the team's French driver Bertrand Gachot was otherwise engaged serving a prison sentence for assault.

Meanwhile Red Bull mechanics had been busy repairing Perez's car and after detailed dialogue between Red Bull and the race stewards the team were told Perez could compete at the back of the grid.

With the Mexican's car miraculously repaired, all he and the others needed was a race to drive it in.

A green water clearing truck with giant rollers emerged from the gloom, raising hopes of a gear being changed in anger.

Then the announcement to race came, prompting a flurry of activity with teams rushing to get ready for racing and a huge cheer from the patient fans.

But their joy was to be short lived with the cars returning to the pit-lane for the night.

 

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