The final practice session for the Russian Grand Prix has been cancelled due to the weather conditions in Sochi.
Torrential rain and thunderstorms were forecast on Saturday and duly hit overnight, leading to flooding in some areas and poor visibility. After the opening Formula 2 race of the weekend was postponed with lightning in the area, FP3 was also called off by the FIA a little over 15 minutes before it was due to start.
“(The stewards) decide, in the interest of safety, to modify the official program by cancelling Free Practice Session 3 due to force majeure,” the stewards stated.
The cancellation of FP3 means the FP2 order will be used to decide the grid on Sunday if qualifying doesn’t take place. The weather conditions are expected to improve later on Saturday but it is unclear if the track will be usable before the light fades around 6 p.m. local time, with the FIA putting a contingency schedule in place to run qualifying on Sunday morning if needed.
“As we can see already this morning, the weather has gone up and down like a yo-yo and the intensity of the rain has started increasing with some thunder already joining us, but effectively the procedure 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,” FIA race director Michael Masi said.
“From what we are seeing from the forecast side, is that we will have this level of rain until about 1:30-2 p.m. 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.
“We were fortunate enough in restructuring the program to have the first Formula 3 race yesterday, pre-empting the weather that was going to happen this morning, which based on what we saw when we came out to the circuit this morning was absolutely the right decision — it was torrential at the time we would have been having the F3 race. Now we will just look at the day ahead and just take it step by step.”
The last time F1 faced a similar situation, a typhoon warning meant Saturday’s running was cancelled completely on Friday at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, with qualifying held on Sunday morning prior to the race.
“The determining factor this afternoon will be the light,” Masi added. “So sunset locally is about 6:15 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 program and hold qualifying on Sunday morning.”