Formula One: Rain forces US Grand Prix qualifying to Sunday

Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain smiles at the end of the third practice session after recording the fastest time during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on Oct 24, 2015.
Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain smiles at the end of the third practice session after recording the fastest time during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on Oct 24, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

AUSTIN (AFP) - Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix was finally postponed after three hours of rain-hit delays on Saturday and re-scheduled for 9am local time on Sunday (10pm Singapore time).

The race organisers confirmed the postponement at 4pm on Saturday after a day of frustration in severe wet, windy and miserable conditions for spectators at the Circuit of the Americas.

Originally barred from entry to the circuit until 12 noon, they missed witnessing the rain-hit action when the final free practice session for the race was run behind closed doors during the morning.

And they were left with nothing to cheer in the afternoon as incessant rain left the circuit flooded and drains unable to deal with the deluge.

The qualifying session is now scheduled to take place just five hours ahead of Sunday’s race  in which defending two-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes hopes to win and wrap up his third title.

It is the fourth time an F1 qualifying session has been switched to a Sunday.  It also happened at the 2004 and 2010 Japanese Grands Prix and the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton was fastest in the earlier practice session ahead of nearest title rival, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.

Despite the dreadful conditions on a very wet track, Hamilton had shown just why he is regarded as the best driver of his generation by clocking a fastest lap in one minute and 59.517 seconds.  

The 30-year-old Briton’s lap was the only one to break the two-minute barrier as he, and most of his rivals, slithered, splashed and spun through steady rain and standing water in a session nobody had expected to see.  

Hamilton can win his third title in Sunday’s race if he outscores Vettel by nine points and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by three.  

Both Hamilton and Rosberg were among the men caught out in the conditions, but there was no arguing with Hamilton’s ability as he outpaced Vettel by 0.863 seconds.  

“It’s real shame for all these people here in the rain, but you just can’t mess with Mother Nature,” Hamilton told reporters.  

“It was great out there in the car, and I loved it. I always loved driving in the rain – I grew up doing that in the UK, driving in the rain all the time.”

Nico Hulkenberg was third fastest for Force India ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso and Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull.  

Kimi Raikkonen was seventh in the second Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, Rosberg and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.  

The luckless Rosberg had one major spin in which he hit the barriers and damaged the front wing of his Mercedes car.

It was a surprise to many that the practice session took place behind closed doors.

Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe said that the session had been run because “there is a chance that the times could be used for grid positions” if it is not possible to do any more practice or to hold a qualifying session.