Max Verstappen raised the issue of Formula 1’s start times in the aftermath of the contentious Belgian Grand Prix, which could have been run if moved from its scheduled 3pm slot.
The race start was delayed four times because of poor weather conditions at Spa and the first formation laps behind the safety car quickly gave way to a lengthy red-flag period.
A final attempt to allow racing to happen, more than three hours after the scheduled start time, was abandoned after three laps behind the safety car that were controversially enough for the FIA to declare a race result and award half points.
Red Bull’s Verstappen, classified as the race winner after starting from pole and leading the field during those safety car laps, argued that the 3pm start time compromised the efforts to find a break in the weather to try to run the race.
“From 3 o’clock onwards it just got worse and worse and when you already start that late in the day there is not much room to move around, even though we still waited for like three hours,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t improve.”
One of the first major changes initiated by F1 in the Liberty Media era was shifting from 2pm local time to 3pm for race starts.
While the later start and finish comes with knock-on consequences in normal circumstances, it also cuts out an extra hour of daytime running in conditions like those at Spa on Sunday, when light began to fade at around 7pm and sunset was around 8.30pm.
Several drivers commented afterwards that the conditions were not better at the final attempt to start the race than the first – whereas earlier on Sunday the Formula 3 (10.40am) and Porsche Supercup (12.05pm) support races had both been held in full.
“When you start at 3 o’clock and you have days like this, maybe it’s better to start a bit earlier, at 12 or 1 o’clock,” Verstappen suggested.
“I think that’s a better time anyway to start. Now it’s just dragging on and on and the weather just gets worse and worse. It gets dark.”
If F1 and the FIA had altered the schedule and moved the grand prix to earlier in the day, it might have been able to go ahead.
The entire Belgian GP weekend was dogged by inclement weather with various sessions delayed across F1 and the support categories.
But F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali suggested the reason there was no discussion over a schedule change is that the weather forecast did not indicate a prohibitive amount of rain.
“The information we had it was considered to be normal rain,” said Domenicali.
“There was no sign of the rain being so bad. Otherwise, a decision could have been taken.”
As for reacting on-the-day, Domenicali said the only course of action was to handle the conditions using the available regulations.
That is why the race was “temporarily” stopped by the stewards in an unprecedented move “on the grounds of force majeure”.
The race’s three-hour clock was stopped after two hours, banking more time to try to get a one-hour race completed.
“The stewards decided to stop the time in order to gain time to try to see if there was a possible slot to have the race,” Domenicali said.
“In these conditions, it’s like throwing the balls in the air. It could have been pouring from 11am. It’s not something you can predict.”
One suggestion raised by many onlookers was whether F1 could have held the race on Monday instead, as can happen in NASCAR.
That had already been ruled out by FIA race director Michael Masi and Domenicali said it was not possible “for a lot of reasons”.
“That was considered but it was not possible,” he said.