Mercedes tops practice as Japanese GP qualifying postponed until Sunday

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton could have already locked out the front row for the Japanese Grand Prix after all Saturday activity has been cancelled due to the imminent arrival of Typhoon Hagibis.

The category 5 ‘Super Typhoon’ has already led to the cancellation of two vital Rugby World Cup matches and, if conditions remain bad on Sunday morning, the final free practice times could form the grid.

If so, that would mean Bottas will start from pole position from title-chasing Hamilton with the impressive Max Verstappen lining up third on the grid ahead of the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.

“As a result of the predicted impact of Typhoon Hagibis on the FORMULA 1 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 2019, Mobilityland and the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF) have decided to cancel all activities scheduled to take place on Saturday, 12 October. The FIA and Formula 1 support this decision in the interest of safety for the spectators, competitors and everyone at the Suzuka Circuit,” read the official F1 statement.

Friday’s running gave a good indication that Mercedes will be tough to beat around the iconic Suzuka circuit come what may on Sunday, the cars proving significantly faster than their Ferrari rivals both on the short stints and the longer race simulation runs – Leclerc a surprising 0.365s off Bottas’ best mark.

“Very positive day, tried some things,” Bottas is quoted by Andrew Benson on BBC Sport. “Felt good from the beginning, really happy with the car in general, still minor things with the balance to tweak but both short and long runs felt good. It’s always so much fun here driving these cars, and especially when the car feels good.

“It is only practice but I do feel still the gains we’ve made with the car. We can just push the car further than before. But still Sunday is going to be close.”

Adding to Ferrari’s seemingly uphill task will be the fact that Mercedes loves Suzuka, having won all five races hosted there in the hybrid era, and is also bringing ‘minor upgrades’ to the venue.

Alexander Albon ended the day sixth fastest ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris. And Japanese fans had one of their own to cheer in Free Practice 1, Naoki Yamamoto gaining his first taste of F1 in Gasly’s Toro Rosso, finishing a creditable 17th fastest and just 0.1s off Daniil Kvyat’s time.

It’s now very much a waiting game to see which path the Typhoon chooses to take and what disruption it will cause, with qualifying now scheduled to take place at 10:00 local time (02:00 BST) on Sunday instead of its normal 15:00 (08:00 BST) Saturday slot.

The race, as per normal, will be held at 14:10 (06:10 BST).

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.