Lewis Hamilton has led the calls for Formula One to undergo radical changes to its schedule as race organisers decided against taking the unprecedented step of running the Chinese Grand Prix 24 hours earlier than scheduled.
The world’s fastest drivers completed only a smattering of laps during final practice in Shanghai after the medical helicopter was unable to land at the designated hospital – 21 miles from the track – due to smog.
The helicopter must be available to fly under Formula One’s safety guidelines, but its grounding meant that the Shanghai International Circuit was effectively open for a paltry 15 minutes of business from a scheduled three hours.
Indeed, the day’s second 90-minute session was delayed and then eventually cancelled before a single car had taken to the track.
While the poor weather is forecast to improve for qualifying, rain is still on the radar for tomorrow and the idea of moving the race forward by a day was tabled by team bosses. But following discussions with new owners Liberty Media – represented by Chase Carey, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn – here last night, the decision was taken to stick with the schedule.
Sat program: 3 practice sessions, qualifying Sunday morning and then race. Who's down for the switch up?
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) April 7, 2017
It could prove to be a gamble that backfires if the unsettled weather causes problems tomorrow with 50,000 tickets sold.
As for yesterday, it was left to triple world champion Hamilton to provide the action as he left his garage, walked on to the pit straight and over to his army of supporters in the main grandstand.
Hamilton, 32, signed a number of caps before throwing them to his fans while recording the footage on his phone for his large army of social media followers.
The British driver then called on Liberty – the American media giants who took control of the sport for £6.4 billion and promptly deposed the long-standing Bernie Ecclestone at its helm – to make changes.
“So sorry to all of you either watching on TV or here at the track,” Hamilton, who also suggested rescheduling the three practice sessions for today and then staging both qualifying and the race a day later, said.
“We must find a solution to deal with the weather issue. This could actually be a blessing in disguise and a chance for the new bosses to be pro-active and creative.
“The track was absolutely fine and we could have run all day today with no issue if it weren’t for the clouds.
“It’s not good for the fans watching on TV and even worse for all those people in the stands, who have paid money to come out here from the city or even from other countries. They’ve barely seen a car on track today, which must be tough for them.
“We need to work together with the FIA and FOM [Formula One Management] to find a solution or an alternative plan of some kind when we have circumstances like this in the future.”
New McLaren boss Zak Brown concurred. “It was not good at all,” he said. “Terrible. What we need moving forward is a contingency plan when this happens.”