Austin, Texas – Constant heavy rain led to a third 30-minute postponement of Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s potentially title-deciding United States Grand Prix.
The session was due to start at 8pm SA local time following heavy storms that also led to delays and cancellations on Friday.
Following two delays, qualifying is now scheduled to start at 10pm, weather permitting.
Fans allowed in
Opening free practice took place in damp conditions, but second practice on Friday afternoon was called off.
The third and final free practice session took place in very wet conditions and was curtailed by heavy rain on Saturday when the track was closed to fans until later.
Defending two-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who is hoping to win Sunday’s race to clinch his third world title, was fastest in that session ahead of nearest title rival four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
Many fans who were allowed into the circuit after the morning lockout complained at their treatment and at being prevented from seeing any cars in action on the track.
Despite the dreadful conditions on a very wet track, Hamilton had shown just why he is regarded as the best driver of his generation by clocking a fastest lap in 1min59.517 seconds.
Splash and spins
The 30-year-old Briton’s lap was the only one to break the two-minute barrier as he, and most of his rivals, slithered, splashed and spun through steady rain and standing water in a session nobody had expected to see.
Hamilton can win his third title in Sunday’s race if he outscores Vettel by nine points and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by three.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg were among the men caught out in the conditions, but there was no arguing with Hamilton’s ability as he outpaced Vettel by 0.863 seconds.
Nico Hulkenberg was third fastest for Force India ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso and Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull.
Kimi Raikkonen was seventh in the second Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, Rosberg and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
Behind closed doors
The luckless Rosberg had one major spin in which he hit the barriers and damaged the front wing of his Mercedes car.
It was a surprise to many that the session took place behind closed doors.
Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe said that the session had been run because “there is a chance that the times could be used for grid positions” if it is not possible to do any more practice or to hold a qualifying session.
The running of the practice session came after the circuit had said: “For the safety of our fans and employees, today’s opening has been delayed until noon. Further updates will be forthcoming.”
Qualifying could be put back to Sunday morning – the last time that happened was at the 2013 Australian GP when the Saturday session was postponed because of heavy rain.
In 2004, and in 2010, qualifying for the Japanese GP was abandoned on Saturday because of a typhoon and it took place on Sunday morning.