Typhoon set to hit Japan on Sunday, putting GP schedule at risk

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The Japanese Grand Prix could be subject to a schedule change due to the threat of typhoon Phanfone, which is currently working its way through the Pacific.

The category four typhoon is set to hit Japan on race day, posing a challenge to the Formula 1 paddock to ensure that the full complement of weekend running can take place in spite of the weather.

In a statement issued by the FIA’s weather supplier, UBIMET, the severity of the storm was made clear, and it is understood that team managers and F1 leaders will hold discussions about amending the schedule to avoid the worst of the weather.

“On Thursday morning satellite images showed the eye of category-4-Typhoon PHANFONE, approximately 340 nautical miles (630 km) south of Iwo To in the Bonin Islands on Friday,” the statement reads. “It is expected to move northwestward, reaching a maximum mean wind intensity of 130 knots (240 km/h). Gusts could exceed 160 knots (300 km/h).

“After passing the Ryūkyū Islands on Saturday PHANFONE should weaken a little due to moving over colder water and getting into an area of stronger wind shear, but should remain a powerful category 3-4 typhoon.”

Chief F1 meteorologist Steffan Dietz confirmed that the race on Sunday is set to be affected by rain.

“There are still big uncertainties for the storm track in the coming days,” he said. “The current forecast track for typhoon Phanfone keeps the eye of the storm to the southeast of Japan on Sunday but with associated rainbands extending north towards Suzuka during the morning. Once it starts the rain is likely to be prolonged and become increasingly heavy.”

Although the statement did say that “at this time, nothing too severe is expected before Monday”, it did raise concerns about the subsequent pack-up following the grand prix at Suzuka.

The teams are due to fly out of Japan to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix early next week, presenting the possibility of trying to disassemble the paddock in the midst of a typhoon on the Monday after the race.

Because of the race in Russia, the teams would not be able to run the race on Monday should Sunday’s weather stop it from going ahead. Instead, the most logical option for moving the race – if indeed it must be moved – would be to run on the Saturday afternoon, with qualifying taking place in the morning in place of FP3.

Veteran F1 journalist Adam Cooper confirmed that talks were being held regarding the race, but the FIA is still monitoring the situation closely.

Here’s the predicted path of the typhoon, courtesy of UBIMET.

For the time being, the weekend is set to go ahead as planned, but this could be subject to change.

This would not be the first time that the Japanese Grand Prix race weekend has experienced a schedule change, with qualifying for both the 2004 and 2010 races being held on Sunday morning due to inclement weather.