Cooper Straight: Storm in a teacup

Fears of chaos at Suzuka on Saturday were allayed when the rain stopped as Typhoon 22 apparently changed its mind and by-passed the track. Meanwhile the local McDonalds proved a popular alternative to qualifying, as Adam Cooper reports from Japan

Cooper Straight: Storm in a teacup

So in the end, the carnage didn't happen. Hindsight reveals that qualifying could have gone ahead as normal on Saturday, albeit in extremely wet conditions. But as one team engineer noted, it wasn't as bad as Donington 1993.

Cancelling the show was a decision unprecedented in F1 history, but at the time, it was the right choice. It would have been irresponsible to wait until Saturday to see how things turned out, as more than anything else, it was a question of public safety. Instead there was an unexpected day off for the whole F1 community.

From early in the week there were reports that Suzuka would be disrupted by a typhoon on Saturday, but at first we didn't pay much attention, as a bit of rain in Japan is no big deal. Indeed it was wet on Monday and Tuesday, although both Wednesday and Thursday were beautiful days.

As is the way of things when the action got going on Friday it was pouring down, and in the course of day, news of the impending typhoon began to get more serious. Had the alternative name hurricane been used, we might have taken more notice...

Satellite images showed it was heading right for us, and it was said to be the biggest to hit Japan in a decade. Gradually the stories built and built until we reached the stage that we were going to see winds of up to 150mph and some 600mm - that's two feet - of rain. The seriousness was emphasised by the fact that several people had been killed in the region only a few weeks ago, and that the first two corners at Suzuka had been left under four feet of water.

It was no longer a question of whether the track would be too soggy for the cars; more of whether there would be anything left of the circuit come Saturday night. At around 6pm on Friday the FIA and the circuit promoters came to a decision - there would be no action at all on Saturday, and qualifying would be moved to Sunday morning. All support races were to be cancelled to make fitting the serious action in less of a challenge. There was no other choice really; the punters had to be told as early as possible not to bother to come, although that was of little comfort to the thousands already camped around the environs of the circuit. They appeared to be for a rough time...

Everyone went into defence mode. Teams took down their giant telemetry aerials, and anything else around the paddock that was not attached to firm foundations was dismantled. Late in the evening it was decided to take down many of the billboards around the track.

"Apparently it's going to be quite a big hit tomorrow," said Jaguar team manager Dave Stubbs. "We've got to go on what the locals say. They're closing the whole track because of the danger to spectators, but from my point of view I've got to think of the safety of my guys. I've told them to stay in the hotels tomorrow. There's going to be stuff blowing around like you've never seen, so let's be sensible about it. It's going to be pretty bad from early in the morning, and the worst is going to be around 3pm..."

The rain kept coming through Friday evening, and we had little else to do but speculate upon what might happen. Although Sunday was supposed to be better, there was no guarantee that the circuit would be in a fit state come the proposed 9am start of qualifying. Who knew what damage might be done to he infrastructure around the track, especially things like the miles of TV and timing cables? Some folk even speculated that we'd lose the roof of the pits, which would make rather a mess of the contents of the garages. And possibly even put Brazil under threat, due to the lack of serviceable racing cars...

A more realistic concern was the sheer amount of water expected, and the fact that mud and dirt would be all over the place. Even if the rain stopped, the track could be unusable.

All this was a matter of debate on Friday night when many of the paddock VIPs met up in the Circuit Hotel's Log Cabin bar. Normally by this point of the weekend things would be getting too serious for anyone to venture out for a beer, but the place was packed - the world champion was one of many big names to turn up - and there was a real end-of-term spirit about the place.

So what of Saturday? It rained all night and continued to rain into the morning. The skies were grey, but there was none of the strong winds. Estimates of the arrival of the big one ranged from 3-6pm, so at least there was time to go out for a walk.

While the drivers and management stay at the Circuit Hotel, most of the rest of us reside in Yokkaichi, about 45 minutes away. It's not the most exciting place in the world, and not somewhere that F1 folk spend too much time exploring, as they normally see their hotels and the track and not a lot else.

But Saturday was almost surreal. Half the paddock was meandering around town, wondering in and out of shops, and generally looking for something to do. At 1pm, the usual start time for qualifying, McDonald's was packed with folk from nearly all of the teams, grabbing a bite of something that looked familiar. Everyone shared tales of doom and gloom, and specifically what might go wrong come Sunday.

Gradually, the mood changed. People one bumped into had heard reports that the worst of the typhoon was going to miss us. Then at around 3pm, the rain finally stopped, and not long after that, there was a hint of blue skies, and the sun came out. Some folk rather regretted that they didn't get to see any action, but TV pictures of carnage elsewhere in the country, especially Tokyo, showed that we had enjoyed a lucky escape.

I bumped into the BAR engineering team in Mr Donut, of all places. Unlike everyone else they were all uniformed up, having actually been to the track to get to work on their computers. Not many other folk bothered, apparently, and apart from the rain, it had all been rather tame in the paddock. It was going to be pretty much business as usual on Sunday, they reckoned, just a question of how wet or messy the track was going to be come the morning.

If it does all go ahead as planned, we could be in for a treat on Sunday, as there is no way that it will be routine.

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