2021 Belgian Grand Prix: The Shortest Race in Formula One History

The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix will be etched in memory as the shortest race in F1 history, with two laps completed both behind the safety car.

Mark Phelan

By Mark Phelan
Updated on March 14, 2024

Reviewed and checked by Lee Parker

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix entered the Formula One record books, though not for reasons you might expect. During Sunday’s race, the downpour was so intense that teams would have been more suited to navigating Spa in boats rather than on Pirelli’s extreme wet weather tyres.

This event will be etched in memory as the briefest race in F1 history, with a mere two laps completed – both behind the safety car. So, the term ‘race’ should be used loosely. For context, the prior record for the shortest race was set during the 1991 Australian Grand Prix, where drivers managed only 14 laps, equivalent to 33 miles. The Belgian Grand Prix was also the sixth time in F1 that half-points were awarded.

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, officially known as the Formula 1 Rolex Belgian Grand Prix, took place at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on the 29th of August 2021. This race marked the twelfth event of the 2021 F1 World Championship, and Spa hosting its 54th Grand Prix. The race saw Max Verstappen secure the win, followed by George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Initially a 44-lap Grand Prix, the race was prematurely halted during the third lap due to severe rain. The first two laps were behind the safety car, eventually leading to a red flag on the third. According to sporting regulations, at the time, results were based on the first lap’s end, with half points awarded to the top 10 finishers as less than 75% of the intended distance was covered.

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

Distinguished as the shortest race in F1 history, both by distance (6.880 km or 4.275 mi) and by laps (just 1). This surpassed the previous shortest distance during the 1991 Australian Grand Prix and the fewest laps during the 1971 German Grand Prix. Notably, this was the first time since the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix that half points were awarded and the sixth time in F1 history. Changes introduced in 2022 ensured half-points couldn’t be granted in subsequent seasons. The choice to run the race in such a manner attracted significant controversy. The FIA and race director, Michael Masi, faced criticism for handling the event, with the race becoming the only World Championship race without any full green flag conditions.

Many debated the sporting integrity of classifying and awarding points when “racing” only occurred behind the safety car when no overtaking was allowed. Some in the sport felt the race prioritised commercial gains over genuine racing and fan engagement. They argued the event should have been called off without results and spectators compensated. Others, however, felt that half points were warranted for those who excelled in qualifying despite the wet racing conditions.

In light of the backlash, Formula 1 took measures to prevent a similar issue in the future. Starting in 2022, for points to be granted, a race needed at least two green flag laps without interruptions from safety or virtual safety cars. The point structure for truncated races was also adjusted in 2022, with points allocated to fewer drivers based on the distance covered during red-flagged races. After uncertainty of points allocation at the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix, regulations were further refined in 2023. Points were now determined based on the proportion of race distance completed, regardless of race end conditions. Moreover, since 2022, efforts have been underway to enhance race conditions during wet weather, minimising the reliance on safety measures. In 2023, Pirelli unveiled a new, Full Wet Tyre Compound, which made its first apperance at the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix. This innovative tyre, not requiring warm-up blankets, promises improved racing in wet conditions. Pirelli is also considering adding another wet weather tyre or enhancing the performance of a single wet tyre to ensure consistent racing across varying wetness levels.

What happened in the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix?

Race delays

The race, scheduled to start at 15:00 local time (CEST), faced multiple delays due to relentless rain. Sergio Pérez seemed out of the race almost immediately before the start, having had a crash en route to the grid. Despite earlier indications from FIA race director Michael Masi that Pérez could not participate, in the end race officials allowed him to compete. This decision came after the Red Bull Racing team successfully repaired Pérez’s car during the pause after the first red flag.

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

In an effort to restart the race at 15:25 CEST, the race director decided to allow two formation laps (not counting towards the final race classification) to be executed behind the safety car. However, the start was soon halted, with vehicles lining up in the pit lane again. By 17:00 CEST, referencing the powers under article 11.9.3.o of the 2021 FIA International Sporting Code, the stewards temporarily halted the race clock, citing force majeure.

Race start and finish

After enduring more than three hours of interruptions and halted starts, the race was officially restarted from the pit lane at 18:17 local time. Two additional laps under the safety car were recognised as official race laps, enabling race results to be classified and half points to be awarded. On the third lap, the race faced another suspension and wasn’t resumed. The final standings were based on completing the first lap, which was in line with Formula One’s two-lap countback rule.

Max Verstappen clinched the top spot, marking his 16th F1 win and sixth of the season. He was followed by George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in second and third, respectively.

Other points finishers included Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, Nicholas Latifi, and Carlos Sainz.

This win for Verstappen added to Red Bull Racing’s tally and their fourth Belgian Grand Prix win, the first since Ricciardo’s triumph in 2014. Notably, it was Honda’s first F1 victory at Spa since 1991. Clocking in a mere 6.880 km (4.275 mi) with a solitary official lap, this event is the shortest race in F1 history.

Russell’s second position marked his debut podium finish and Williams’ first since Lance Stroll‘s 2017 achievement in Azerbaijan.

Stroll ended the race in 18th but was later dropped to 20th due to a penalty, paving the way for Kimi Räikkönen and Pérez to move up positions. Charles Leclerc‘s tyre switch during the race’s delayed start was investigated but went unpunished.

As of 2022, this race remains unique. It’s the only World Championship Grand Prix without an official fastest lap. It also joins the list as the eleventh (at the time) F1 World Championship Grand Prix without any race retirements and the twelfth to conclude under the safety car’s supervision.

2021 Belgian Grand Prix driver reactions

The race’s outcome was far from what the drivers had in mind on race day. Verstappen voiced his sentiments, stating, “What can you say? This is of course not what you like, especially not for the people at the side of the track, the fans. They expect a race. But the conditions today were not good. It just kept raining all the time. I think from 3pm 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.”

Russell saw his points as a testament to his qualifying skills. He remarked, “We don’t often get rewarded for great qualifyings but we absolutely did today. I want to say sorry to all the fans. It was amazing, their support, to stay out here throughout, and we were all in the same boat.” While he meant it figuratively, given the conditions, it could have been a real scenario.

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

Hamilton, who finished third, questioned the decision to proceed with the race. He shared, “We obviously can’t control the weather. I’m sure all of us love racing in the rain, especially here in Spa. It’s one of the greatest circuits in the world. [I’m just] really disappointed for the fans. They stood out there for absolute hours in the rain.

“More importantly, they had to spend so much money with travelling, accommodation and then they didn’t get a race. Unfortunate, and I’m a little bit confused as to why they restarted the race because between the two hours when they stopped us the first time to the last time, there was no change in weather.

“I mean I know why, but I do feel the fans were robbed of a race today and I think they probably should get their money back.”

While weather is unpredictable, and there is a responsibility to the fans to go racing, the question remains: Was it wise for F1 to restart that late and for only two laps?

2021 Belgian Grand Prix race classification

133Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing13:27.071112.5
263George RussellWilliams1+1.99529
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1+2.60137.5
43Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1+4.49646
55Sebastian VettelAston Martin1+7.47955
610Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1+10.17764
731Esteban OconAlpine1+11.57983
816Charles LeclercFerrari1+12.60892
96Nicholas LatifiWilliams1+15.484101
1055Carlos SainzFerrari1+16.166110.5
1114Fernando AlonsoAlpine1+20.59012
1277Valtteri BottasMercedes1+22.41413
1399Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing1+24.16314
144Lando NorrisMcLaren1+27.10915
1522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1+28.32916
1647Mick SchumacherHaas1+29.50717
179Nikita MazepinHaas1+31.99318
187Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing1+36.054PL
1911Sergio PérezRed Bull Racing1+38.205PL
2018Lance StrollAston Martin1+44.10819

2021 Post-race Championship Standings

2021 Post-race Drivers’ Championship Standings

1Lewis Hamilton202.5
2Max Verstappen199.5
3Lando Norris113
4Valtteri Bottas108
5Sergio Pérez104

2021 Post-race Constructors’ Championship Standings

2Red Bull Racing303.5

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About The Author

Senior Editor

Mark Phelan
Mark Phelan

Mark is a staff writer specialising in the history of Formula 1 races. Mark researches most of our historic content from teams to drivers and races. He has followed Formula 1 since 1988, and admits to having a soft spot for British drivers from James Hunt and Nigel Mansell to Lando Norris. He loves a great F1 podcast and has read pretty much every drivers biography.

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