F1 cancels Saturday qualifying for Japanese Grand Prix, hunkers down for typhoon

Storm expected to dump 30 inches of rain on Tokyo

SUZUKA, Japan — Formula One team bosses backed the decision of Japanese Grand Prix organizers to cancel all of Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions as the sport hunkered down to ride out Typhoon Hagibis.

Originally scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday local time, the hourlong qualifying session that decides the grid order for the race will now be held at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Final practice, which would normally take place before qualifying, has been scrapped. The race, the 17th of 21 this season, is set to go ahead as planned at 2:10 p.m. Sunday at the Suzuka circuit.

"I think it’s a shame for the fans, but it’s a fully respectable decision," said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. "Safety is first."

Hagibis, which means 'speed' in the Philippine language Tagalog, is due to make landfall on the main island of Honshu on Saturday. It is expected to bring high winds and 30 inches of rain to Tokyo, the worst storm there in 60 years.

It has already forced the cancellation of two rugby World Cup matches.

Meteorological Agency official Yasushi Kajihara said Typhoon Hagibis resembled a typhoon that hit the Tokyo region in 1958 with heavy rains and left a half-million houses flooded. More than 1,200 people died in that storm.

"In order to protect your own life and your loved ones, please try to start evacuating early before it gets dark and the storm becomes powerful," Kajihara said at a news conference Friday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet held a disaster management meeting late Friday, vowing to do its utmost to protect people's lives. He said 17,000 police and military troops are ready if needed for rescue operations.

Hagibis was advancing north-northwestward with winds of 110 mph gusting to 156 mph on Friday afternoon, the weather agency said. It was expected to weaken as it hugs the Pacific coast of Japan's main island on Saturday, making landfall south of Tokyo and passing out to sea by Sunday afternoon.

The meteorological agency cautioned that the typhoon could trigger waves as high as 40 feet in coastal cities through Saturday.

Suzuka, located about 180 miles southwest of the capital, is also expected to be hit hard by the passing storm.

"It makes no sense to ask the spectators to come on track and then to be in a big mess," said Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur. "We already thought about this yesterday evening, honestly.

"OK, it will change the program, but I think we can afford the weekend with two free practices."

Formula One is no stranger to dealing with inclement weather in Japan.

In 2004 Typhoon Ma-on forced qualifying to be postponed to Sunday, while another storm in 2010 similarly delayed qualifying by a day.

The 2014 edition of the race, during which Jules Bianchi suffered ultimately fatal head injuries, was held in the wet with rain from the approaching Typhoon Phanfone drenching the track.

After Friday’s two practice sessions, which were run in overcast but dry conditions, teams and organizers worked to prepare for the coming storm.

The starting lights and broadcast screens around the track were taken down, the broadcast center was dismantled and the equipment moved to the main pit building. The podium was also packed away.

Temporary grandstands were rearranged so the wind would pass through them. Organizers handed out sandbags in case of flooding.

Teams anchored their hospitality units down with pegs drilled into the asphalt, wall panels in the garages were being taken down, garage doors were shuttered, and pit wall gantries were secured.

Champions Mercedes said they would also take down screens and speaker systems installed in their hospitality unit and lift most of their garage equipment off the floor to avoid flood damage.

Organizers said the circuit would be closed to the public and media on Saturday, but key people from the governing FIA and commercial rights holders FOM would remain at the track to make sure critical systems were kept running.

"Things are more complicated but certainly a great challenge," said Binotto. "But I’m pretty sure it should be a good show and spectacle on Sunday."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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