Safety-first stand lauded

Toro Rosso mechanics removing the pit wall control desk soon after the two practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka circuit yesterday in preparation for Typhoon Hagibis' approach.
Toro Rosso mechanics removing the pit wall control desk soon after the two practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka circuit yesterday in preparation for Typhoon Hagibis' approach.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Teams respect decision to put off qualifying for Japanese GP with Hagibis approaching

SUZUKA • Formula One team bosses have backed the decision of Japanese Grand Prix organisers to cancel all of today's practice and qualifying sessions as the sport hunkered down to ride out Super Typhoon Hagibis.

Originally scheduled for today, the hour-long qualifying session will be held tomorrow, a revised schedule issued by organisers showed, while the final practice session was scrapped.

Tomorrow's race is also set to go ahead as planned at the Suzuka circuit, and while Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto felt it was "a shame for the fans", the decision was "fully respectable" as "safety is first".

The typhoon, which has already forced the cancellation of two Rugby World Cup matches, is due to make landfall on the main island of Honshu today and has been predicted to be the fiercest this year.

Hagibis is threatening to batter Tokyo and its surrounding areas, including Yokohama, with the heaviest rain and wind seen in 61 years.

Suzuka, located about 300km to the south-west of the Japanese 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 programme, but we can afford the weekend with two free practices."

While the cancellation of Rugby World Cup fixtures is unprecedented, F1 is no stranger to dealing with inclement weather in Japan.

In 2004, Typhoon Ma-on forced qualifying to be postponed to a day later, as did another storm in 2010.

The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, during which Jules Bianchi suffered ultimately fatal head injuries, was held in heavy rain from the approaching Typhoon Phanfone.

After Valtteri Bottas outpaced Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in two practice sessions held in overcast but dry conditions yesterday, teams and organisers worked to prepare for the coming storm.

The starting lights and broadcast screens around the track were taken down, while the broadcast centre was dismantled along with the podium.

Temporary grandstands were rearranged so that the wind would pass through them, and organisers handed out sandbags in case of flooding.

Teams were also observed anchoring their hospitality units with pegs drilled into the asphalt while wall panels were taken down and pit wall gantries secured.

Mercedes, who can wrap up their sixth consecutive constructors' title if they score 14 more points than Ferrari tomorrow, said they would also take down the screens and speaker systems installed in their hospitality unit and lift most of their garage equipment off the floor to avoid flood damage.

While the circuit will be closed today, key people from governing body, the International Automobile Federation, as well as commercial rights holders Formula One Management are set to remain at the track to make sure critical systems do not go down.

Said Binotto: "I'm pretty sure it should be a good show and spectacle on Sunday."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Safety-first stand lauded'. Print Edition | Subscribe