This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix is at risk of being called off due to a typhoon barrelling through southwestern Japan.
Typhoon Nanmadol has been classified as a ‘violent’ typhoon, Japan’s most severe tropical storm rating, and made landfall on Sunday night on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four major islands.
With wind gusts of up to 200 kilometres per hour as of Monday, the Japanese Meteorological Association has issued a ‘special warning’, an alert level used for only the most extreme forecast conditions.
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Seven million people have been told to take shelter or evacuate. Already 200,000 homes are without power, while some parts of the country are expecting up to 400 millimetres of rain.
Though the typhoon’s path is forecast to take it just north of the Motegi circuit by Tuesday before exiting into the Pacific on Wednesday, the storm is causing nationwide disruption to air travel, which could delay MotoGP’s arrival in the country in time for the first day of track action on Friday.
The sport has a slim four-day turnaround to fly more than 10,000 kilometres from Spain to Japan, but with the typhoon forecast to be battering the country until at least Wednesday, there’s a real risk freight flights won’t be able to land in time to set up for the weekend.
On Monday All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, the country’s two major carriers, cancelled almost 800 flights. More than 200 flights have been cancelled at the major Tokyo and Osaka airports.
MotoGP freight and staff are expected to leave Europe for Tokyo between Monday and Tuesday.
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The sport had already cancelled Friday morning practice for all categories in light of the tight turnaround and after suffering major freight delays between Indonesia and Argentina earlier this year. A technical problem on a cargo flight to Termas de Río Hondo forced organisers to scrap all Friday running completely.
But the extra half-day buffer may not be enough to account for typhoon delays if flights are unable to land until late in the week.
Further complicating decision-making is that the Thai Grand Prix follows immediately afterwards as the final leg of an ambitious triple-header of races. Though the typhoon will have passed by the end of the weekend, any knock-on delays to air traffic could generate further issues.
Speedweek has reported that the International Road-Racing Teams Association has a representative already travelling to Japan to provide advance warning for potential problems and to facilitate a smooth arrival if major delays occur.
Talks had begun on Sunday night between MotoGP organisers, the teams and the circuit about contingency plans if flights can’t arrive as planned, with cancellation on grounds of force majeure reserved for only a worst-case scenario.
Postponement is not an option given the packed nature of the calendar, with five races scheduled in the seven weeks after Japan.
A cancellation would potentially benefit title leader Fabio Quartararo given Motegi’s long straights will be a boon to Ducati rival Francesco Bagnaia, though the Frenchman thinks the big braking zones might swing the balance of power at least a little back in his direction.
Quartararo leads Bagnaia by only 10 points on the title table but led the Italian by 91 points five races ago, with Ducati coming on strong in the final half of the season.
The Japanese Grand Prix has been cancelled for the last two years owing to the pandemic, with the country having remained largely closed to foreign visitors until this year.
The race had previously been held continuously since 1987, when it was held at Suzuka, southwest of Nagoya, before switching permanently to Motegi, around 150 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, in 2004.