The Japanese Grand Prix’s entire Saturday track programme, including qualifying, has been cancelled as Typhoon Hagibis bears down on the Suzuka circuit, race organisers announced Friday.
Qualifying will be rescheduled to 10am local time (0100 GMT) Sunday, with the race taking place at 2:10pm (0510 GMT) as originally planned, providing the weather improves.
The Suzuka circuit will be closed, with no public or media allowed in for safety reasons as Hagibis, packing heavy rain and winds in excess of 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour is expected to make landfall on Saturday.
“As a result of the predicted impact of Typhoon Hagibis on the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix, Mobilityland and the Japanese Automobile Federation have decided to cancel all activities scheduled to take place on Saturday,” said a statement by the motorsport’s governing body FIA.
“The FIA and Formula One support this decision in the interest of safety for the spectators, competitors and everyone at the Suzuka Circuit,” it continued.
The decision means the teams and drivers will just have Friday’s two practice sessions in which to prepare for Sunday morning’s qualifying session because Saturday’s third session will not be rescheduled.
If qualifying is not possible on Sunday morning because of continuing bad weather, then the grid will be decided based on Friday’s second free practice times, the FIA later confirmed in a further statement.
“Should this eventuality come to pass, the stewards will exercise their authority... and direct that the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix will be established based on the second practice session classification, with any penalties applied as necessary,” said the FIA statement.
Formula One qualifying in Japan was also moved to Sunday in 2004 and in 2010 due to poor weather.
The typhoon has already claimed casualties at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, with Saturday’s England-France clash in Yokohama and the New Zealand-Italy match in Toyota City cancelled.
The volatile nature of Hagibis – with Japan’s weather bureau warning of “brutal winds and violent seas” as well as record-breaking rain – means even Sunday’s race could be under threat, though the current forecast is for clearer weather.
A postponement of the Grand Prix to Monday is impossible, the FIA said.
The latest forecast predicts Hagibis to make landfall near Tokyo on Saturday with the Suzuka circuit, which lies near the Honshu coast about 300 kilometres southwest of the capital, being battered on the fringes.
The safety-first stance of organisers comes after the tail-end of a typhoon led to tragedy at the 2014 race at Suzuka.
French driver Jules Bianchi crashed after losing control in rain and poor visibility and died the following year from his injuries having never recovered from a coma.
Leading drivers backed changing the weekend timetable. “I don’t think anybody wants to put anybody’s life in danger,” said Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Thursday’s media day.
“The decision is not for us, necessarily, because for us it’s nice and easy, cosy, in the garage. But for the people out there around the track, it is not nice to be sitting there with rain going sideways.”
The blank Saturday will be a huge disappointment to thousands of fanatical supporters at one of the best-attended races on the circuit.
Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas went quickest in first practice on Friday, a whisker ahead of Mercedes teammate and world championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
The Mercedes pair, benefitting in Japan from an upgrade package to their W10 cars, were almost a second quicker than the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, who were third and fourth on the timing sheets.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon came next on a condensed racing weekend.