Formula 1

Häkkinen: “Forget the controversy FIA made the right call at Spa”

August 31, 2021January 5th, 2022

The Belgian Grand Prix was the shortest in history, but drivers’ safety has to come first, writes Mika Häkkinen.

I have a reputation as a ‘flat out’ racing driver. I have always enjoyed taking that approach in Formula One or any other form of racing. However, I am also a big supporter of making the right decisions for reasons of safety, so I believe the FIA’s Race Director Michael Masi made the right decision not to proceed with a full race in Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday.

We need to consider what might have happened if a full race had taken place and someone, whether a driver or spectator, had been injured – or worse – as a result. In that case we would be having a very different discussion about the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix.

Let me be clear – the FIA and the teams do a brilliant job to improve safety every year, but Formula One remains a fundamentally dangerous activity. I nearly lost my life in Adelaide in 1995, so I can speak from personal experience.

Also, my first team-mate at McLaren was Ayrton Senna. He lost his life just seven months after I made my debut for the team in the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix. That had a major impact on me and everyone in Formula One. The deaths of Ayrton and Roland Ratzenberger led to the safety revolution that meant no other driver lost their life racing in Formula One for the next 20 years.

Jules Bianchi’s serious accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka ended that safety record. When he died as a result of his injuries in July the following the year, a new generation of F1 drivers, team members and fans realised this sport can be brutal.

Bianchi’s accident was caused by a number of factors, including that both Adrian Sutil’s Sauber and Jules’ Marussia went off the track when they hit a patch of water that was draining across the circuit. On a drying track a river of water poses a significant risk.

When a car aquaplanes you have zero control – no brakes, no steering – and this is one of the reasons why the heavy rain at Spa all day on Sunday made the conditions so dangerous. When the rain does not stop the track has no chance to drain. Current F1 cars have around 1000bhp, weigh 752kgs and have very sophisticated aerodynamics that throw up a curtain of spray.

You do not want to aquaplane off the track at 300kph at Spa, or indeed any other track. F1 drivers want to race, including in the wet, but when drivers such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso realise it’s impossible to race, they must to be listed to.

We had already seen serious accidents at Spa during the weekend, including a five-car accident in the W Series event and a significant accident for Lando Norris in F1 qualifying. Both of those accidents were caused by cars losing grip at the famous Eau Rouge corner, one of my favourite corners in racing.

While I understand that the FIA and Spa have further plans to improve the safety at Eau Rouge and Raidillon, there is nothing the authorities can do to stop heavy rain. They can only look at all the available information and try to make the best decision in the interests of everyone, starting with protecting the lives of competitors.

I feel sorry for all the fans who attended the event. We have spent 18 months waiting for fans to return to Formula One, so this was disappointing.

F1 was unable to stage a full race for safety reasons, but as McLaren’s Zak Brown said, there will have to be a discussion about how the sport deals with similar events in future. From my perspective it’s important that making the right decisions based on the safety of everyone attending a Grand Prix remains the number one priority.

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