The despondent fan stories that show the damage F1 risks - The Race
Formula 1

The despondent fan stories that show the damage F1 risks

Sep 1 2021
By Scott Mitchell

If Formula 1 and the Belgian Grand Prix promoter fail to come to an agreement over compensating ticket-holders for the ‘race’ that wasn’t a race, they risk alienating part of their fanbase.

Several aggrieved fans who were at Spa last Sunday for the farcical finish, where three safety car laps were deemed sufficient to declare a race result and hold an entire podium finish, have shared their stories with The Race.

Aug 29 : Belgian Grand Prix review

“I feel completely robbed after the whole experience,” said one.

“Hearing the podium ceremony and its celebratory music felt like a smack in the face,” another noted.

A third “spent more than a month’s rent to be there and I don’t think I will ever make that commitment again”.

And a fourth, who only started following F1 a few months ago, said: “My newfound F1 passion could not have been trampled more spectacularly.”

F1 driver parade Belgian GP

None of these fans nor the others The Race talked to privately or received messages from publicly on social media had any issue with the race not going ahead.

Some were disappointed, of course. “I came all the way from Lyon for no racing,” said a fan named Alan. “It was my first meeting and I’ve seen everything but the race.”

Another user on Twitter shared a photo of their 75-year-old father standing trackside in the rain, excited to see and hear F1 cars in person for the first time – but never at racing speed. Such things are desperately sad in their own way.

But most, if not all, watching events unfold on Sunday accepted that the conditions were simply not good enough.

F1 Belgian GP

Instead, it was the awarding of half points, the declaration that this was apparently a ‘race’, and the very clear suggestion that this ticked off enough boxes to ensure the grand prix had officially been held, that rankles.

Lewis Hamilton slammed the “farce” and said fans deserved their money back. F1 hesitated to agree and that’s what has caused such an outcry. That and the initial stance from F1, on the defensive, insisting the right decision had been made. “Nobody is arguing otherwise!” one fan told us.

“I was at Spa today and I feel completely robbed after the whole experience,” said Tommy Stephens, who travelled to Spa with his partner and brother after a year-and-a-half’s anticipation.

“The statement I’m seeing from Stefano Domenicali RE refunds has made me livid. We paid a significant amount of money to attend this event and for the prospect of a refund to be dismissed on a whim like that is extremely maddening.”

F1’s stance has shifted and discussions are under way with the Belgian GP promoter to establish some kind of recompense for ticketholders. But Domenicali’s comments that the tickets were the responsibility of the circuit and that the fans had seen some racing earlier in the day did not go unnoticed – it gave the impression this was not F1’s problem to solve, if there even was anything to solve.

Stefano Domenicali F1 President and CEO

“Sunday was such an extremely big disappointment,” said McLaren and Fernando Alonso superfan Gino Morillo Morales, who you might recognise from Twitter where his handmade paper recreations of the cars from Alonso’s career have often been widely shared.

“We got up very early and took our seats in the rain at 7:30am, only for nothing to happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s logical nothing happened with the weather, but after 11 hours of sitting in the rain, being soaked, and ending up shaking because you’re so cold, seeing how the FIA sent out the drivers for a safety car parade lap so they can pony up a race result feels like we’re being cheated on.

“My gripe is how the FIA did its very best to claim they’ve given us a race to check off their legal boxes, while I am sure I haven’t seen one at all. It’s their trick that hurts.

“Walking away from a rainy track while hearing the podium ceremony and its celebratory music in the background felt like a smack in the face. I couldn’t be bothered watching it and just walked away.”

Belgian GP F1 podium

That left a bitter taste for a fan who had otherwise had an “incredible” weekend, seeing Alonso on-track for the first time, and getting Paddock Club passes on Saturday from McLaren. “The good feelings will prevail,” he says. But others have fewer silver linings to fall back on.

“I was there and I felt a complete lack of understanding from F1, the FIA, the event organisers and some of the drivers,” says Daan, a fan from the Netherlands.

“I fully understand that the race was not on, but they could’ve made that call way earlier. Being left out there without proper comms (our speakers weren’t working all weekend) and going from the high of them announcing a restart to the farce that unfolded right after was infuriating.

“The weather was the same from 12:00 until 21:30 so the race was never on. The reactions of some drivers added insult to injury. George Russell fist-bumping his whole team when they finally announced the race wouldn’t resume hurt, Max Verstappen calling the fans ‘the real winners’ was tone-deaf.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1 Belgian GP

“Only Lewis, a driver I didn’t like at all to be honest, stood up for us and I’m grateful for that. I spent more than a month’s rent to be there: for a camping spot, fuel, tickets etc.

“I don’t think I will ever make that commitment to go to a race again.”

To be blunt, F1 will probably find others who will. But that’s not the point. To take that attitude is to commit the sin that angered so many on Sunday in the first place: treating fans like commodities.

Some fans who contacted The Race made it clear they felt the Belgian GP organiser is overreaching with how many spectators were in attendance. A reduced allowance was set for this event, at 75,000, so Spa has handled more in the past. But there were many left dissatisfied with the organisation around the event and that was exaggerated by the miserable weather that flooded car parks and campsites.

Belgian GP F1 fans

“The worst part was the fact [the restart that triggered the safety car laps and nothing more] only came at 18:17,” said Twitter user Chef Boyardee.

“It delayed everyone from leaving the track and campsites, which were already flooded. This meant most of us had to leave when it was already dark. Not one car left the camping on its own.

“They all needed a tractor to get out, all this in a flooded and dark field while being soaked from standing by the track. I didn’t come home until midnight and I live an hour away.”

Another local fan, Nick Allaerts, has been attending races at Spa since 1995. He cited several issues within Sunday’s “big disappointment”.

“There was a lack of clear communication to the crowd,” he said. “A lack of knowledge of their own rules.

“A lot of people stayed at the track, but after less than one hour people started to leave. My dad and some friends left after one hour, not expecting a race anymore. I was more hopeful and stayed for another hour. Then I saw the rain radar still looking bad.

“Then we still heard the race needs to finish at 6pm [the original end of the three-hour window].

“That was the trigger for me to leave. Some other friends did the same.

“On the way to the parking we heard that they would be allowed to race till 8pm [after an intervention from the stewards to temporarily pause the race and the three-hour countdown].

“Still, we expected they would just do some safety car laps and red flag it again. So, we are happy we left. Those safety car laps would be even more painful.”

They really were.

F1 safety car Belgian GP

At this point it’s worth keeping in mind that not every fan had the option of simply waiting to see if the race would happen. Different people take different routes to races, come from different means, have different accommodation, and travel options. And of course, every plan is based around the F1 timetable.

Being pushed up against a deadline to depart was the issue for another fan who contacted The Race. Letting us share her story with the request of anonymity, she explained that she only started following F1 a few months ago.

Her “infatuation” with it sparked a rapid desire to go to a race. She picked Spa because it could be attended using public transport. And attended the Belgian GP for the full weekend, on her own.

“I was denied several vacations during the pandemic so I decided I could splurge on the best seat in the house,” she wrote.

“I might never go to a GP again after all, and if I was going, might as well go big or stay home, right?”

That led her to buy a Gold ticket in the Raidillon grandstand. There were problems earlier in the weekend, like difficulty travelling to the circuit from Liege on Friday, which took a great deal more time, and plenty of rain on Saturday. But Sunday is when things truly unravelled.

“The rain was clearly going to be intense for the whole day, you could feel it getting to the track at 10am,” she said.

Belgian GP F3 start

“The F3 race still went ahead with almost no visibility, as did the Porsche Supercup, so some hope remained. My main concern was delays: what if I had to leave before the race was over to catch the bus so I wouldn’t be stranded in Francorchamps? The day before I had to leave for that exact reason and missed the W Series race that I was really excited to see.

“By 4pm I knew it was not happening. The rain wasn’t letting up. So I was expecting the race to be delayed to Monday, or to be cancelled altogether. I waited 2 hours and 30 minutes before I left, feeling a pit in my stomach that my exciting post-pandemic adventure was a huge mistake.”

Many fans must make a swift exit from races (or as quickly as they can given the massive crowds filtering out at much the same time) and this should never be held against a paying customer especially when it’s only significant delays that mean they have to make such a choice.

This fan felt as shortchanged as any who was able to stick it out to the equally bitter end at the track. She learned of the late laps behind the safety car while on her return to Liege. Initially she felt she’d make a mistake leaving. Then she discovered it led to no actual racing. Now everything hurts more.

“The leaps and bounds F1 has made in recent years to attract fans like us have been destroyed in an instant,” she said.

F1 Belgian GP Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri

“Seeing how blatant the grift is and how little we as fans mattered has been a brutal realisation. We’re never going to see our money back. Not only is it wrong: it’s downright short-sighted.

“Who wants to be treated like that? Am I expected to take another chance on going to the GP? I thought F1 had realised it had to cultivate a larger fanbase to last. If it cannot do the right thing for its own sake, I thought they’d at least act in their own long-term interest.

“My new-found F1 passion could not have been trampled more spectacularly. I feel like an idiot. I think of those fellow fans I met. How everyone’s soul had pretty much left their bodies on the bus back to Liege.

“I never want to spend another dime on F1 until accountability happens, in words and in action. And I’m going to spend a lot of energy trying to warn unsuspecting new fans tempted to go on an adventure like I was.

“I guess it’s something of an accomplishment. I had the best seat in the house for the worst grand prix in living memory.

“It’s not much of a consolation, but I don’t think we’re going to get anything else…”

Belgian GP F1

Let’s see. But if anything you’ve read above sounds melodramatic, consider that this is how much going to a grand prix means to fans.

It is an enormous undertaking and for many who do not have endless expendable income it is the ultimate expression of their support for F1.

That kind of dedication, from fans new and old, is what the championship’s foundations are built on.

If this situation is not resolved in an appropriate manner, those foundations will be damaged.

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