SUZUKA, JAPAN (AP) - Qualifying for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix was postponed until Sunday morning due to heavy rain that lashed the Suzuka circuit Saturday.
Constant rain resulted in streams of water running across the Suzuka track, and after a few inspection laps by the safety car, it was decided conditions were too dangerous to attempt qualifying.
“It was horrible today, the worst conditions I’ve experienced in Formula One,” McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton said. “I couldn’t get to full throttle, not even half throttle.”
Saturday morning’s practice session was all but washed out, with most drivers staying in the pits. Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari and Virgin’s Timo Glock were the only drivers to set a time in the session, cautiously steering around the sodden circuit.
With the track still likely to be damp when qualifying begins, teams will be using educated guesses on setting up their cars for the session, having entertained themselves most of Saturday making toy boats to send down the mini-rivers in pitlane rather then analyzing practice data.
“Everyone will be in the same situation,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got a good car but a lot of work to do. Generally, we don’t make too many changes for wet conditions.”
Hamilton’s preparations are behind everyone, as he crashed in Friday’s first practice session and by the time the car was fixed, he had time for only a handful of laps in session two.
The Briton is one of five drivers still in the hunt for the championship. Red Bull’s Mark Webber leads the standings, and he and teammate Sebastian Vettel dominated Friday practice and appear the team to beat Sunday. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is second in the championship, with McLaren’s Jenson Button also in contention.
Vettel and members of the Red Bull team emerged from their garage after qualifying was called off and applauded fans, who had sat through the heavy rain in the vain hope of seeing some on-track action.
“I know it’s not an easy decision to make, as there is a lot of pressure from the TV broadcasters and fans, but in those conditions it’s not fair simply because we have no control of our cars,” Vettel told the BBC.
“For the majority of people outside, it’s probably difficult to understand why we can’t put our rain tires on and it’ll be fine. But the cars weigh only 600-700 kilograms _ about half what a road car weighs _ and are very low so with some standing water it is easy to start aquaplaning and then it becomes undrivable for us.”
The last time qualifying was postponed until a Sunday for an F1 race was also at Suzuka, in 2004, when a typhoon made conditions impossible.
If the weather is as bad again on Sunday, organizers’ next resort would be to start the race in order of the championship standings.