Torrential rain and thunderstorms hit the Sochi Autrodrom overnight and continued through Saturday morning, causing the opening Formula 2 race of the weekend to be postponed.

Officials had already taken the decision to reschedule the first Formula 3 race on Friday afternoon to pre-empt the weather situation and ease the pressure on a packed weekend schedule.

F1’s third practice session is due to get underway at 12pm local time (10am BST), before qualifying takes place at 3pm (1pm BST). Both the second races for F2 and F3 are also meant to be held on Saturday.

While it is hoped that a complete washout like last month’s Belgian Grand Prix can be avoided, F1 has put a contingency plan in place.

Speaking on Saturday morning, FIA race director Michael Masi explained that F1 will hold out and continue to evaluate the weather, with the hope that qualifying can be staged in the afternoon if the rain eases as expected.

“The procedure for today will be that we will aim to start all sessions and get everything ready from an operational perspective and then judge the conditions at the time,” Masi said.

“From what we are seeing from the forecast side, is that we will have this level of rain until about 1:30-2pm local time and then it decreasing in the afternoon.

“The priority from today’s perspective is obviously Formula 1 qualifying this afternoon, so Formula 1 will take priority. So the aim with FP3 would be, we would have a look at what it’s like, and we would have a couple of options.

“We could start the session and red-flag it immediately so that the clock runs down and then judge what the weather is like at that moment in time. Alternatively, if it’s just going to be torrential for the entire session, we would just abandon FP3 and aim for qualifying.”

With sunset at 6.13pm local time, fading light will be the ultimate deciding factor as to whether F1 qualifying can go ahead, or be moved to Sunday morning.

The last time F1 qualifying took place on Sunday morning was at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix when a typhoon disrupted proceedings.

Switching qualifying to Sunday morning would also result in an overhaul to the F2 and F3 programmes, though F1 will take priority.

"The determining factor this afternoon will be the light,” Masi explained. “So sunset locally is about 18:15, quarter past six in the evening, but with weather conditions like this obviously the light diminishes far earlier.

“So that will ultimately be our cut-off point. If qualifying isn’t able to happen today, as we’ve seen a few times before in the past, then we will redo the programme and hold qualifying on Sunday morning.”

Currently, the forecast suggests a much better and drier picture for Sunday.

In the event that qualifying had to be abandoned completely, F1 would have the option to use the results from Friday’s second practice session to set the grid.

If that did happen, Valtteri Bottas would start Sunday’s grand prix from pole position ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Lando Norris would line-up on the second row.

The engine penalties for Charles Leclerc and championship leader Max Verstappen would still apply in this scenario, meaning they would start from the back as planned.