Ecclestone: F1 ‘lacked courage’, should have started Belgian GP

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says the current custodians of the sport “lacked courage” at Spa and should have started the Belgian Grand Prix despite the adverse conditions.

Last Sunday’s event was started late in the day behind the safety car but proceedings were aborted after just two laps, a minimum count that legally allowed the race to be classified as official, with half-points awarded to winner Max Verstappen and the top ten drivers.

Although there was a large consensus in the paddock over the decision not to race given Spa-Francorchamps’ horrendous conditions, there was also a fair amount of criticism over how F1 and the FIA race director Michael Masi had handled the late restart.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton branded the two-lap run behind the safety car “a farce”, and urged F1 to refund the 75,000 fans who sat for hours on end in the soaking rain, waiting in vain to see a proper motor race.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Ecclestone revealed how he would have dealt with the situation had he still been in charge of F1.

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“I would have told the teams and the drivers at 3pm, it is raining, we are prepared to put it off for an hour and hope the weather is going to change,” he said.

“But no matter what happens the race will start at 4pm and then it is up to you whether you take part or not. If you want to take a risk it is up to you and if you don’t want to, don’t.

“If you think it is dangerous racing quickly, don’t race quickly.

“But it is a different group of people now and they didn’t have the courage and they don’t want to take risks.

“They could have done two laps, five laps, 50 laps or no laps, but the decision should have been with the individual driver.”

The Belgian Grand Prix weekend had kicked off with a massive crash at Spa’s Raidillon during qualifying for the W Series support event, from which all drivers fortunately emerged relatively unscathed.

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But the incident was followed the next day by another wreck in the wet conditions, with McLaren’s Lando Norris hitting the barriers, again at Raidillon, at the start of the final segment of qualifying.

Both crashes last weekend brought back painful memories of the tragic accident in the same zone in 2019 that had cost the life of F2 racer Anthoine Hubert.

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“In a dangerous sport, things can happen and people can get killed,” said Ecclestone, who argued that racing drivers are always free to walk away from risk.

“When people are cleaning windows in big office blocks, the cradle can fall and they can die. And they don’t get paid an awful lot of money for doing it.

“These poor people who were fighting in Afghanistan were told they had to go there and fight and it wasn’t their choice. It was dangerous and a lot of them got killed.

“If we were in the army and we were told we have to go to Afghanistan, we might have said: ‘bloody hell, that doesn’t sound safe, but we have to go, we don’t have a choice’.

“In yesterday’s case, the drivers had a choice. If they wanted to take a risk to get points, then it was up to them.

“If you wanted to hang in there and do a lot more laps to make sure you won the race then that’s what you could have done.”

Hamilton insisted that Sunday’s two-lap safety car parade was all about “a money scenario”.

But F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali dismissed the claim, insisting that commercial imperatives were not at the forefront of the decision to restart the race behind the safety car.

However Ecclestone, obviously speaking from his own experience, brushed off the Italian’s comment.

“I don’t agree with everything Lewis says but he is bright enough to sort things out and in this case he was obviously quite right,” said Ecclestone.

“Can you think of any other reason than money? I can’t.

“There was obviously a lot of pressure. If they cancelled the race without a result, the promoter would have to give all the money back to the public,” added the 90-year-old.

“I am sure they would still have had to pay their race fee to the commercial rights holder, and the television companies are under contract too

“So the person that would suffer more than anyone would have been the promoter. It wasn’t a good look for Formula 1.”

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