Fancy some historical precedent? You know you do. The last time qualy was postponed until race day was back in 2004 – at Suzuka. Typhoon Ma-on’s torrential rain made track conditions impossibly dangerous and, as will happen this weekend, all the action was crammed in to one hectic day.
Come Sunday the rain had cleared – so there’s hope for tomorrow – and everything went off as planned. The morning qualifying session saw one man in particular produce a standout performance: Mark Webber put his Jaguar-Cosworth third on the grid. Six years later he’s at the same team (albeit with a new name, bags more cash and under infinitely better management) and will be hoping for an equally impressive display. But, of course, pole will be the aim this year, and he wont want a repeat of what transpired during the race…
The grid had a relatively odd look: Takuma Sato sent the home fans wild with a superb fourth; Alonso and Raikkonen were back on row six; and Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari was 15th. But, as was standard in 2004, Michael Schumacher took pole, and that day in Japan he shared the front-row with brother Ralf.
In the race Michael had no opposition whatsoever. He walked it, leaving fans, rivals and even his own team to watch battles down the field as he strolled towards win number 13 of the season.
The BARs of Sato and Button showed solid pace, as they did throughout 2004. Jenson secured his tenth podium of the season, behind runner-up Ralf. Sato was fourth, narrowly missing a podium that would surely have blown the lid off Suzuka. However an attempt to propel Taku forward had cost Jenson time, and scuppered his hopes of beating the younger Schumacher.
The oddest and most memorable event of the day befell Webber, and reminds us why, for many years, he was considered F1’s unluckiest man. Airflow problems in the Jag resulted in hot air from the exhaust being pushed forward into the cockpit. A small hole was distributing this very hot air – hotter than that which leaves Eddie Jordan’s mouth when you point a TV camera at him – around Mark’s rear-end. That’s his rear-end, not the car’s. As a result he suffered some rather unpleasent burns to his derriere, and was forced out of the race.
“I just carried on, hoping that it would go away,” said Webber after the race. “But it didn’t and in the end the heat became unbearable. It was distracting me and so I took the decision to stop.”
Japan ’04 also marked the farewell race of 1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner Olivier Panis. The Frenchman would hand his Toyota to Ricardo Zonta for the Brazilian Grand Prix, and waved goodbye to the F1 world at Suzuka. He finished 14th – not the grand goodbye he’d planned.
Japan will be very different to ’04. Back then we dreamt of two people contesting the world title – now we’ve got five; back then Michael Schumacher was F1’s dominant force; and, back then, Mark Webber was suffering a pain in his backside from an element within his team.
Okay, so that last one hasn’t really changed.