Soupy Shanghai smog suspends Friday practice

Chinese fans went home disappointed on Friday after Formula One cars took to the track for just over 20 minutes in three hours of scheduled free practice due to heavy atmospheric conditions in Shanghai.

Though rain remained light at best throughout the day, the combination of humid fog and Shanghai’s notorious smog conspired to close the helipad at the nearest emergency hospital due to poor visibility.

F1 cars are banned from taking to the circuit when the medical helicopter is unable to take off from the circuit, land at the hospital, or travel between the two in less than 20 minutes.

A nearby airport also experienced delays on Friday morning due to the heavy conditions.

The afternoon practice session was the worst affected, with the track closed for all 90 minutes, but the morning session allowed for sporadic running on what was a cold and damp circuit.

Some cars were able to complete installation laps at the very beginning of free practice one, but race control red-flagged the session just four minutes in.

The circuit was opened again 43 minutes later, but after just 18 minutes the cars were called back to their garages with permanent effect.

In that time Max Verstappen managed to set the fastest lap of 1 minute 50.491 seconds, but the Dutchman said he and his team were unable to glean much from their brief on-track excursion.

“It’s difficult,” said the Red Bull Racing driver. “Two times laps is of course not much, so I think it will be an early night to the hotel.”

Though teams lament lost practice time, a lack of preparation tends to lead to more unpredictable qualifying and race outcomes, which could prove a boon for fans after Friday’s disappointment.

Verstappen, however, was unfazed by the prospect of running in a competitive session without the time to set up the car.

“We will see in qualifying,” Verstappen said. “For sure it will be more tricky, because if you don’t have a good balance in the last practice, sometimes it can work for you or against you.

“[But] to be honest I did almost the same last week in Melbourne — I didn’t drive a lot — so it should be all right. We’ll just try to run a lot and then try to find the best possible set-up. It’s the same for everyone.

“Hopefully if we run tomorrow it will be a busy practice, which is also good for the fans, because they can see a lot of cars running, which they haven’t seen today.”

Saturday’s forecast predicts clearer weather with little chance of rain, which should allow for the completion of free practice three and qualifying, but Sunday’s weather is likely to mimic Friday’s conditions, which has some concerned the race may not be able to be run.

Changing the day of the race, though a possibility, is considered unlikely, with too little notice available to run the race on Saturday and the proximity of the Bahrain Grand Prix next weekend making a Monday race a logistical nightmare for the teams.

Nonetheless, team managers are due to meet with the FIA on Friday night to discuss the possibility of changing the race date, but unanimous approval amongst the teams would be required for the governing body to consider the move.

In the event a date change is approved, Saturday is understood to be the most likely alternative day.