F1 drivers, Japanese Grand Prix organizers keeping eye on super-typhoon

Saturday qualifying, at least, is in doubt

SUZUKA, Japan — Formula One drivers at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix said they trust race organizers to make the right call regarding any changes to the event schedule, with Typhoon Hagibis threatening to disrupt Saturday’s qualifying session at Suzuka.

The tropical storm, categorized as a "super-typhoon," is predicted to be one of the most violent to hit the region in recent years and expected to strike the Tokyo area this weekend.

The 5.8-km Suzuka track, located about 300 km south-west of Tokyo, is expected to feel the brunt of it on Saturday, jeopardizing the final practice session and qualifying, which decides the starting order for Sunday’s race.

The storm’s approach has already forced the cancellation of two rugby World Cup matches.

F1 organizers on Thursday held off on a decision about whether to cancel Saturday’s racing, saying they were working to minimize disruption to the weekend timetable and keeping a close eye on the advance of the storm, with safety the top priority.

“I think it’s pretty clear if the typhoon is going to come here, there’s no way we can drive,” said Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, whose godfather Jules Bianchi suffered ultimately fatal head injuries in a crash at the 2014 Japanese race after rain from the approaching Typhoon Phanfone drenched the track.

“But in my previous experience ... they’ve always been quite safe with the conditions. They’ve always asked what we thought about the track once we’re in the car. So, yeah, happy. We'll see,” added the 21-year-old Monegasque.

Formula One is no stranger to dealing with inclement weather in Japan. In 2004 Typhoon Ma-on forced qualifying to be postponed to Sunday. Another storm in 2010 at Suzuka and in 2015 at the U.S. Grand Prix similarly delayed qualifying by a day.

All track running for the local Formula Four support category has been cancelled for the weekend, allowing Formula One more flexibility in planning its schedule if needed.

“There is a forecast, but how many times have forecasts changed?” said Ferrari’s four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

“Currently it sits at a 100% so it’s quite clear.

“It would make sense if by tomorrow (Friday) at night, there is more evidence to give a proposal, or take an action for Saturday.”

Five times world champion Lewis Hamilton, who leads Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 73 points in the overall standings with five races left, said he was sure organizers were prepared.

“I think they do the utmost they can. I’m sure they already have procedures in place to move it (qualifying) to the Sunday morning.”

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