SUZUKA, Japan: Japanese Grand Prix organisers were hoping that Sunday’s race would be able to go ahead as Typhoon Hagibis began to lash a deserted Suzuka Circuit with wind and heavy rain on Saturday.
A huge ground operation to protect the track and infrastructure was launched as soon as Friday practice ended and lasted late into the night after Saturday’s entire programme was cancelled on safety grounds.
Thousands of sandbags were deployed to protect pit lane garages from flooding, electronic timing gear was moved inside and even the victory podium signage dismantled and packed away.
Formula One sporting director Steve Nielson said the aim of the massive lockdown was to ensure that “when we come in on Sunday morning, the timing, the start lights, the GPS, the light panels around the circuit are in an environment where they have a chance of surviving the storm”.
He told Formula1.com on Friday that the sport’s technical staff faced an unprecedented logistical task to keep at bay one of the biggest typhoons to hit Japan in decades and would work throughout Saturday night “connecting everything back up again and systems-checking” once the worst of the storm had passed.
The 10 Formula One teams also went into survival mode with mechanics and support staff working furiously to raise sensitive equipment off pit lane floors in case of flooding and protecting garages with sandbags and plastic sheeting.
Should Sunday’s rescheduled qualifying session not be possible then Valtteri Bottas will be on pole position by virtue of being was quickest in Friday practice, a whisker ahead of teammate and world championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
The Mercedes pair, benefiting from an aerodynamic upgrade, were followed on the timesheets by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, with the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel fourth and fifth.
Qualifying has been rescheduled to 10am (9am Malaysia) Sunday, with the race at 2.10pm (1.10pm), providing the weather improves in time.
Mercedes sitting pretty
As it stands Mercedes are sitting pretty as they look to secure the one-two finish they need to clinch a record sixth successive constructors championship.
A win for Hamilton on Sunday would leave only Bottas, who lies 73 points behind, able to catch him in the drivers’ standings with just four races to come after Japan.
It would also put the Englishman in line to wrap up a sixth drivers’ title, a feat only previously managed by Michael Schumacher, and third world title in a row at Mexico later this month.
The typhoon is already wreaking havoc across Japan and has forced the cancellation of two matches at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.
Rated “large and very strong”, the storm was forecast to crash into land in central or eastern Japan early Saturday evening, packing maximum gusts of 216kph Japan’s Meteorological Agency said. — AFP