10 things we learned from Formula 1’s 2021 Belgian Grand Prix….

1. It was a farce

There’s no better way to put it than that the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was a complete waste of time. After sitting in the pit lane for over three hours, the cars took to the track for two laps behind the Safety Car so the FIA could officially declare a result. 

There’s a lot to unpick but one aspect that needs to be addressed is the decision to hand out half points after two laps of ‘racing’ (there wasn’t any racing). It doesn’t make sense that a 100km sprint race - as we saw at Silverstone - equates to just three points for the winner, while 14km or so of driving at Spa - behind a Safety Car - resulted in 12.5 points for the winner. 

Moving forward, some adjustment to how points are awarded would make more sense and certainly, Fernando Alonso’s criticism of it is entirely justified. Similarly, the three-hour rule to finish the race has little logic to it, especially when the FIA overruled it and halted the clock with an hour to go.

More flexibility and a wider time frame to complete the race would be a sensible route moving forward given that sunset was significantly later in the evening.

2. FIA was right to abandon the race

While it is easy to criticise Michael Masi and his team, they got it right in not allowing the grand prix to take place - the weather was too treacherous. You could make the argument that the FIA missed a window of opportunity to at least keep the cars out when the race was scheduled to start, instead the start procedure was abandoned and the track got worse as the afternoon progressed.

It’s easy to say in hindsight but after Lando Norris’ shunt in Q3, it was handled correctly. 

3. Verstappen has the edge over Hamilton

In the crunch moments this season, Max Verstappen has had the edge over Lewis Hamilton. It was the same at Spa in Q3 as Hamilton led the way after the first runs, a whopping 0.9s clear of his title rival.

Verstappen hit back as he was the only man to break the 1m59s bracket to take his first-ever pole at the Belgian GP. It proved crucial given the events of Sunday as it handed the Red Bull driver his sixth victory of the season, allowing him to reduce the gap to Hamilton to just three points ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort this weekend. 

4. Russell is 100 per cent ready for Mercedes

If there were any doubts as to whether George Russell is ready for a Mercedes drive or not, then surely qualifying at Spa eradicated them. His qualifying lap was stunning, taking provisional pole position before being beaten by Verstappen.

Toto Wolff has hinted that a decision has already been made with all the signs pointing towards Russell. Valtteri Bottas has been a loyal servant and alongside Hamilton, he has formed one of the sport’s most successful partnerships ever, but Mercedes has to look to the future.

Red Bull has Verstappen; McLaren has Norris; Ferrari with Sainz and Leclerc - all 26 and under. It’s only right Mercedes plans for life after Hamilton, making Russell the right choice.

5. Has Red Bull retained Perez too early?

Sergio Perez’s difficult run of form continued at Spa as he was over 1.2s slower than Verstappen in qualifying. To make matters worse for the Mexican, he crashed on his way to the grid on the exit of Les Combes.

The delayed start allowed Red Bull to repair his car in time but it was still crucial points lost in its pursuit of Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. Perez’s torrid weekend comes on the back of Red Bull announcing that he would be with the team for a second year.

No doubt, Perez has been a marginal improvement on Alexander Albon, but it’s important to note Albon didn’t have a car capable of winning the title in his 18 months with the team.

Perez was signed for his consistency and race day performances - so far, he hasn't lived up to expectations.

6. The silver lining for Norris

After topping Q1 and Q2, a maiden pole for Norris looked to be a near certainty. Norris had mastered the conditions and had a comfortable margin over his teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

It all went wrong in Q3 when Norris lost control of his car through Eau Rouge, spearing into the barriers. It ultimately was a missed opportunity for the inform Brit with a maiden pole and victory there for the taking.

“It seems the difference between us and Mercedes and Red Bull is not so much, Norris said on Sunday after the race. “Also I can prove what I am capable of doing as a driver when it is raining. Not how it ended, I don’t want to prove this again. But it evens things out a little bit more, with George finishing P2 it shows it is not all about the car. 

“The driver needs to do a good job as well. If it rains I look forward to it, and I wanted to make up for what happened. If it is dry we know where we are, we are not going to have the quickest car, but we’ll keep trying.”

Norris didn’t get the result his speed warranted but the silver lining is he showed once again that he is one of the very best.

7. Vettel shows his class (again)

Sebastian Vettel once again showed his class at Spa-Francorchamps - not just with his driving but also his actions on track. Fifth on the grid was a fine result, and without his error at Turn 8, fourth was certainly there for the taking. 

When Norris crashed in Q3, Vettel was first on the scene to check on him by slowing down on the track. Just before Norris’ shunt, Vettel had already voiced concerns about the track conditions and ultimately he was proven right when the session was red-flagged.

8. A bad day for Alfa

It was another blow to Alfa Romeo’s chances of beating Williams to eighth in the constructors’ championship as the Grove outfit finished on the podium with Russell, while Nicholas Latifi was in the points again. 

Alfa Romeo has made impressive gains over the winter in terms of pure performance but it simply hasn’t made the most of it. Generally speaking, operational errors have been costly, while its driver line up needs freshening up.

Antonio Giovinazzi has made steady progress in 2021 but whether he’s right for the team in the long term? I am not so sure. Kimi Raikkonen looks set to retire so going into 2022, an all-new driver pairing could be what Alfa needs to take a step forward.

9. Spa's safety changes

After a horrific six-car accident in W Series qualifying, which was soon followed by Norris’ crash in F1 qualifying, changes to the Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex couldn’t come sooner.

The corners themselves aren’t dangerous and ultimately should remain fairly untouched, however, the lack of run-off area needs to be addressed. In recent years, Anthoine Hubert lost his life at the same section of track after being T-boned by Juan Manuel Correa during a Formula 2 race, while Williams F1 reserve Jack Aitken suffered a broken collarbone and fractured vertebrae in a multi-car collision at the Spa 24 Hours race.

In a driver’s meeting at Spa, the FIA confirmed that the changes are already in the works for next year -  which includes revisions to some of the run-off areas, making the run up the hill and blind crest safer. 

10. Fans deserve better

After sitting in the cold and rain for the duration of Sunday, it's fair to say that the fans deserve better. A handful of laps behind the Safety Car was all spectators at Spa got to see. 

With F1 managing to declare a result, fans aren't entitled to a refund as officially speaking, the race did happen. While it's difficult to know whether even a refund is contractually possible, compensation in some form should be given as the race didn't happen.

Hopefully next time F1 will be better prepared to deal with what happened at Spa.