Formula One bosses remain hopeful Japanese Grand Prix will go ahead
Formula One bosses are hopeful the Japanese Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled despite shutting down Suzuka on Saturday ahead of the predicted devastation caused by Super Typhoon Hagibis.
Lewis Hamilton heads into Sunday’s storm-threatened round needing to outscore Valtteri Bottas by a mere five points over the next two races – here and in Mexico in a fortnight’s time – to secure his sixth world championship.
With the most powerful typhoon of 2019 threatening to wreak havoc on Japan, circuit officials took the decision to postpone qualifying until the morning of Sunday’s race when it is hoped conditions will have improved.
Bottas finished one tenth clear of Hamilton in Friday’s final practice session, with Max Verstappen third and Charles Leclerc fourth. Sebastian Vettel finished fifth. That order determines the grid if it remains too dangerous for the cars to run in qualifying on Sunday morning.There were some fears on Friday night that the destruction caused by the typhoon might prevent the race from being staged at all.
Thousands of sandbags arrived at the track in a bid to prevent the 3.6-mile course from flooding. The paddock was effectively packed away with high winds set to batter the area. Residents have been instructed to stay inside.
Hamilton said he intended to spend his day off in Tokyo, 250 miles to the north east of Suzuka, but soon abandoned the idea. Japan’s transport system is set to be on lock down from Saturday morning with 1,600 domestic planes grounded and train services cancelled.
The sport’s governing body, and F1 owners’ Liberty Media, revealed the track will be closed on Saturday after delaying their decision by 24 hours. The final call was taken by circuit authorities on Friday morning.
“The FIA and Formula One support this decision in the interests of safety for the spectators, competitors and everyone at the Suzuka Circuit,” said both F1 and the sporting federation in a joint statement.
As Hamilton marches towards a fifth championship in six quite remarkable seasons, intrigue along the paddock at Ferrari, the sport’s most successful team, has provided a fascinating sub-plot to the Briton’s dominance.
Last time out in Russia, Vettel ignored at least three orders from the Ferrari pit wall to allow Leclerc by. Vettel started the year as the team’s number one, but the emergence of Leclerc, 21, has left the Scuderia with a quandary; promote Leclerc, and desert their £36million-a-year quadruple world champion, or rip up their rule book and allow both drivers the freedom to race.
“It is an interesting dynamic because Seb was number one, and now he clearly isn’t,” said Hamilton.
“They are trying to ramp Charles up. Is that good for a team? I don’t think so, but that is the philosophy they have had forever.
“Over the course of the following years we will see whether it works. It hasn’t worked for a long time over there, and it doesn’t look as though it will work moving forwards. That’s not a bad thing for us.”
Vettel, 32, faces being out-qualified by Leclerc for the 10th time in a row. He is 21 points behind his inexperienced team-mate in the championship, too, with just five races left.
Dr Helmut Marko, the Red Bull motorsport advisor who reared Vettel, claimed his protégé is now finished at Ferrari following the team orders debacle in Sochi.
“I hope he is wrong,” said Vettel, affording a wry smile. “There are still a lot of things I want to achieve here.
“I am not happy if I am slower, whether that is in practice, qualifying, or in the race. There are certain aspects I have struggled with the car this year, and that hasn’t allowed me to extract my best and what I know I have in me.
“Charles is doing a very good job. In terms of raw speed, he is very quick and a real reference. It is normal that you try and beat your team-mate. You want to be faster than all of the other guys.”