Rumours suggesting that F1 qualifying could be postponed to Sunday morning are beginning to circulate the Suzuka paddock after heavy rain threatened to wash out Saturday's usual Japanese Grand Prix action.
The downpour, which had been expected, followed a Friday evening thunderstorm and intensified before Saturday morning's third free practice session, but quickly soaked the tricky Japanese circuit and left the majority of the field cooling their heels in the pit-lane as their teams decided that it was too risky to send them out. As McLaren's Lewis Hamilton - and others - proved on Friday, the circuit was capable of catching drivers out even without the extra complication of a flooded circuit, and safety could become a major concern ahead of the crucial qualifying session.
Although no official confirmation had been received from the stewards, several teams secretly admitted that they doubted that qualifying could take place if the conditions prevailed, with every driver to have ventured out in the one-hour session reporting severe aquaplaning, regardless of the competence of the Bridgestone tyres.
"Our forecast is that the rain is going to get heavier," Lotus technical head Mike Gascoyne told the BBC
, "If it's like this, they'll have to look at postponing qualifying until tomorrow morning.
"If they say go out at two o'clock, we'll go out at two o'clock, but it doesn't do anybody any good if half the field are in the Turn One barrier."
There is precedent, of course, for postponing qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, after the 2004 event was disrupted by the threat of typhoon Ma-on. The entire Suzuka circuit was shut down on day two of the weekend, ironically also the 9 October, despite the storm eventually passing close by and not hitting the venue directly. Qualifying was then run early on Sunday morning. The 2005 event was also affected by inclement weather, but qualifying took place as usual, setting the scene for one of the best races of the season as Kimi Raikkonen came from the back of the grid to snatch victory from Giancarlo Fisichella.
Although alternative methods for setting the grid remain open to the stewards - including using the order in which cars take to the track for a wet session that is subsequently abandoned - it appears that postponing it is the most likely option should the conditions, which sees rivers running across the track in various places, not improve.