Teams take shelter as typhoon hits circuit

Silverstone is not the only Formula One circuit struggling to keep its head above water. As Typhoon 22 headed on a collision course with Suzuka yesterday, race officials met to discuss closure of the track today in the face of extreme weather warnings, and how to form the grid for tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix after official qualifying had to be cancelled.

Silverstone is not the only Formula One circuit struggling to keep its head above water. As Typhoon 22 headed on a collision course with Suzuka yesterday, race officials met to discuss closure of the track today in the face of extreme weather warnings, and how to form the grid for tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix after official qualifying had to be cancelled.

After a day of continual rain saw Michael Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella and Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest practice times, officials had to decide the best way to handle a unique situation. When Typhoon 21 blew through Suzuka a few weeks ago it left the first and second corners under water.

With Typhoon 22 now upgraded to "super" status, and 100kph (62mph) winds expected to hit the track at noon today, rendering qualifying impossible, they took the only viable option. The track will be closed to the public today, on safety grounds, and everything has been battened down in preparation.

"We're all stocking up with sandwiches and Alpen bars and booking the Log Cabin for lunch tomorrow," the BAR team principal, David Richards, joked, referring to a popular night spot near the circuit hotel. "But to be serious, I think it is very sad for all the fans that qualifying has to be delayed."

The big debate then became how to resolve the problem of qualifying. Peter Sauber, that most unflappable and urbane of all team principals, spoke with tongue-in-cheek but there was more than a little truth in his ironic remark when he said: "If we start to think about it now, maybe in two weeks' time we have a solution."

Possible options included forming the grid based on world championship positions (terribly dull); based on Chinese Grand Prix qualifying (exciting since Schumacher would have to start at the back again); based on Friday practice times; or based on running pre-qualifying and qualifying on Sunday morning, assuming the conditions had improved sufficiently.

In the end, with uncharacteristic swiftness, it was decided that pre-qualifying would take place at nine o'clock Sunday morning, followed by qualifying at 10. All support races have been cancelled, and the grand prix will start as scheduled at 2.30pm local time.

"The conditions were very bad today," Fisichella said yesterday after practice. "There were a few rivers running across the track, and lots of patches of standing water. It was a day on which it was easy to make mistakes." The Italian's team-mate, Felipe Massa, did just that, as his Sauber aquaplaned and spun off in each session.

"I think on any circuit you are a little bit more nervous racing if it is wet because you can't see 20 metres, even five metres in front of the car, because there is so much spray if you are in traffic," said Jenson Button, who will be aiming for his first grand prix victory here with a BAR-Honda which has an improved engine and gearbox. "It's pretty scary and I don't think this is any different. I do enjoy driving in the wet, just not when you're in the middle of a pack. It's not a nice situation if it rains."

The only time in the history of the world championship in which a race has been postponed was at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium in 1985, after a newly laid track surface began breaking up.

The Australian Grand Prix twice came close to cancellation because of heavy rain, in 1989 and 1991, but after each event went ahead they were truncated when conditions proved too difficult. Fortunately, the weather is expected to improve here on Sunday, so everything can be run in one day.

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