Typhoon over Suzuka, storm at British HQ

Race on despite weather but confusion reigns here
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The Independent Online

Once upon a time, in a world far away, only cricket, tennis and the Indianapolis 500 had to put up the shutters because "rain stopped play". But here in Suzuka, where the F1 cars should have been qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday, Typhoon 22 put a stop to everything: work, rest and play. It might take Bernie Ecclestone to stop the British Grand Prix, but here it has been an act of God.

It began raining on Friday and it did not stop. Michael Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella dominated practice, in the Bridgestone-shod Ferrari and Sauber Petronas respectively, the Italian doing a great job to lap within seven-tenths of the champion. Kimi Raikkonen, in his Michelin-tyred McLaren-Mercedes, just kept them in sight. Fisichella's performance boded well for today's race, but at one stage there were some serious doubts that it would actually take place, as the typhoon was headed directly for Suzuka.

Statistically, 10 October is a pleasant day in Japan, but something went badly wrong this year. Typhoon 21, which visited a few weeks ago, left a certain amount of devastation, and the first two turns at Suzuka under water. Typhoon 22, which scored a direct hit on the circuit shortly after lunchtime yesterday, was much stronger, and got upgraded to a super-typhoon.

Believe it, there's an awful lot of "oo" in this typhoon. Saturday's morning practice and afternoon pre-qualifying and qualifying sessions were cancelled late on Friday night, as warnings went out to the public not to go to the circuit at all. The plan is to run the pre-qualifying and qualifying sessions this morning.

Fortunately, at the last moment the typhoon swerved off its Suzuka-bound course and headed instead for Tokyo. Though there was still a lot of rain at the circuit, the potential for serious flood and high wind damage has receded, and everything is now expected to proceed as rescheduled.

The last time a grand prix was postponed was in Belgium in 1985, when a newly-laid track surface got torn up by the passage of the cars; the race was rerun later in the year.

Without any action, the Suzuka paddock became like Nevada's Black Rock Desert (albeit a wet version) when a land-speed record attempt is mired in one of the frequent downtime periods of ennui that are part and parcel of such undertakings. When that happens, all there is to do is talk. And as if there hasn't been enough of that regarding the British Grand Prix, the plight of the UK's home race has again been hashed, dished and served up any which way you choose.

On Thursday, information was leaked from Ecclestone's office about the aspirations of a consortium entitled Brand Synergy Limited, comprising the former world champion Nigel Mansell; former touring-car racer Robb Gravett; former F1 photographer and close friend of the late Lotus founder Colin Chapman, David Phipps; Luton Town FC's former chairman Peter Nelkin; and the entrepreneur Kim Cockburn.

This caused great excitement, given Mansell's involve-ment and their claim to have a seven-year deal with Ecclestone to promote the race. Yesterday, Cockburn even told BBC Radio 5 Live: "We've saved the British Grand Prix and we're keeping it at Silverstone."

Not so fast. Alex Hooton, chief executive of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), responded to Cockburn's claims with exasperation. "I had a meeting with Kim Cockburn yesterday out of courtesy and said that we would be prepared to examine her proposal in full. But she has no coherent proposal, just a series of ideas and a number of people who might be prepared to help her. She has no proper business plan and no confirmed financial backing.

"At the end of the meeting I promised her that I would send her a list of all the infor-mation we would require in order to consider her proposal, along with a number of others. She knows that's what she has to do."

Meanwhile, the Government have been working with the BRDC to help craft ways in which potential investors could be given favourable tax breaks. The Government will not, however, make up the financial shortfall. "If Bernie reverted to the deal we initially discussed for a two-year deal, I think we would be there," Hooton said.

Leaked documents included a private and confidential letter from Cockburn to Ecclestone, castigating the BRDC and reminding the commercial-rights holder how she and he could have sorted the whole thing in minutes. While the deal and the intentions are doubtless genuine, this whole thing was a bit of hokum, clearly designed to put a rocket under the BRDC.

And so, in its own cyclonic way, the British Grand Prix saga whirls on and on. Thundering typhoons! Where are Captain Haddock, Tin Tin and Snowy when F1 needs them?

"I think tradition is a very important aspect of Formula One, but it is a balance," the BAR team principal, David Richards, said. "Everything moves on, everything evolves in life, whether it is a sporting event like Formula One or anything else, so it's finding that balance, and I don't think that anyone would argue with the claim that the addition of Shanghai and the wonderful circuit there has benefited Formula One. But so does keeping some of the older circuits and keeping them going.

"I am very confident there will be a solution, and we will be racing at Silverstone next year." It will be nice if we can race in Japan today, too.