The forecast for the weekend had always suggested there would be some kind of weather disruption, with the worst rain due to arrive on Saturday.
The FIA began to anticipate possible disruptions by advancing the scheduled F3 race from Saturday morning to Friday evening, allowing Dennis Hauger to clinch the title in a dry and uninterrupted race.
But the rest of the race scheduled for Saturday might not be so lucky. The rain fell overnight and continued into the morning, possibly impacting the F1 sessions scheduled at the Autodrom in Sochi.
Final practice for the Russian Grand Prix is scheduled to take place at 12:00 p.m. local time in Russia (10:00 a.m. BST), with qualifying then scheduled for 3:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. BST).
FIA race director Michael Masi spoke about the weather situation on Saturday morning, saying there could be a window in the afternoon when conditions improve.
“The procedure for today will be that we aim to start all the sessions, prepare everything operationally, and then judge the conditions at that time,” Masi said.
“We have what we have seen on the forecast side is that we will have this level of rain until around 1:30 pm to 2 pm local time. And then it decreases in the afternoon.
“So the priority from today’s perspective is obviously Formula 1 qualifying this afternoon.”
Just a month after Spa’s wash that left the paddock frustrated, F1 could be set for another hiatus today in Sochi. Here’s how he can handle a possible washout in Sochi today.
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
Photo By: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
Move qualifying to Sunday
Sunday’s qualifying was a decision often deployed by F1 when Saturday’s race was halted – an event in Japan three times in the past 20 years.
The last Sunday qualifying session was in 2019, when an incoming typhoon prompted the FIA to cancel Saturday’s race the day before, giving the paddock a chance to crouch down and avoid a wasted day on the track .
The typhoon finally derailed, meaning there was no major damage at Suzuka, and qualifying could take place on Sunday morning under bright blue skies before the race a few hours later.
If qualifying could not take place today, preparation for Sunday morning’s session would not be a problem for F1, assuming there is sufficient decent time before the race.
There are plenty of precedents for doing this, and while it would result in a readjustment of the schedule with F2 and F3 races also scheduled for Sunday, this is a scenario the paddock is prepared for.
“If qualifying cannot take place today, as we have seen many times in the past, then we will hold qualifying on Sunday morning,” Masi said.
Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Use FP2 results to define the grid
But if the rain were to continue until Sunday morning and force qualifying to be canceled altogether, the results of second practice could end up forming the grid for the afternoon’s race.
Although this has not been a decision that has been necessary in the past, the FIA has confirmed that it will be implemented at Suzuka in 2019 if no qualifying action can take place.
The stewards announced on Friday of the Suzuka weekend that if qualifying could not take place, they “would exercise their authority under article 11.9.3.b of the International Sporting Code and order that the grid of the Grand Japan’s prizes be established based on the classification of the second practice session, with any penalties applied if necessary.
It’s a possibility the FIA doesn’t seem to be actively anticipating at the moment, given the lack of a similar statement so far this weekend. But Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley was heard on FIA radio at the start of FP2 discussing the weather situation and the potential of this grid-forming session.
If so, Valtteri Bottas would start Sunday’s race from pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton after the Mercedes drivers led the field in FP2 on Friday. Pierre Gasly would start third for AlphaTauri, with Lando Norris fourth.
Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen would still have their penalties applied, meaning they would start the race from the back of the grid as planned.
Yuki Tsunoda, Alpha Tauri AT02
Photo By: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Work to find a window later on Saturday
F1 fans were frustrated with recurring rain delays and weather updates at Spa a month ago, but it could be a similar story for qualifying on Saturday.
With the morning F2 race already impacted and the rain not expected to subside until the afternoon, the last F1 practice session should be impacted.
Masi explained on Saturday that the FIA could either start the session and flag it immediately to let the clock tick if it looks like there might be a window to run, or the session could be dropped altogether.
Unlike practice, qualifying can be delayed and delayed, but the most important factor will be the level of light in Sochi, especially with the weather so bad.
“The determining factor this afternoon will be the light,” Masi said. “The sunset locally is around 6:15 pm in the evening, but with weather conditions like this the light is obviously fading much earlier. So that will ultimately be our cutoff point.”