AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton compared the treacherous conditions to “playing with a rattlesnake” after heavy rain washed out qualifying at the U.S. Grand Prix on Saturday.
The Briton, who was fastest in a slippery final practice session for Mercedes, will have to wait until Sunday morning to try and secure a 50th career pole before aiming to clinch his third title with three races to spare.
After five half-hour delays at the Circuit of the Americas, and the rain and wind only intensifying, organizers gave up the struggle to hold qualifying and set a new time of 0900 local (1400 GMT) on race day.
“It’s a real shame for all these people here in the rain but you just can’t mess with Mother Nature,” Hamilton told reporters.
“It’s difficult to explain how tricky it is out there, difficult for people to understand,” he said. “I’m imagining it as a rattlesnake, trying to touch a rattlesnake or seeing how close you can get your hand to it.”
Race director Charlie Whiting told Reuters that if qualifying could not start by 1000 local time, then it would not happen and the times from final practice would set the starting grid.
That would be another boost for Hamilton, who will take his third world championship on Sunday if he scores nine points more than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and two more than Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg.
Final practice was run earlier, when the rain was less intense, without spectators being allowed in for safety reasons. When the gates finally did open at noon, the cars remained out of sight in the garages.
“The rain is so hard that no wet tire can take the cars round safely. Why we are all wasting our time for delays, delays, delays?,” said Mercedes non-executive chairman and retired triple champion Niki Lauda.
“It is the only decision that could be taken because it was not possible to drive out there,” said Rosberg after the final postponement. “Let’s hope we can drive tomorrow morning, that will be important.”
Formula One has held qualifying sessions on the Sunday before now, most recently in Australia in 2013 when rain and poor light forced the delay.
The Japanese Grands Prix in 2004 and 2010 also had Sunday qualifying due to a typhoon and rainstorms lashing the Suzuka circuit.
The rains, fueled by the remnants of Hurricane Patricia that hit Mexico’s Pacific coast on Friday, inundated many parts of Texas and triggered flash floods.
The race start is scheduled for 1400 local, by which time the weather is expected to have improved.
With hardy fans huddling in the grandstands, teams and drivers did their best to keep spirits up with a range of pitlane antics relayed on the television screens.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat performed country dancing moves, Rosberg played around with a soccer ball and a Force India mechanic showed off some breakdancing.
Toro Rosso’s Dutch teenager Max Verstappen produced a fishing rod while father Jos, a former F1 racer, donned overalls and helmet and squeezed into the car while team mate Carlos Sainz’s father did the same.
Sauber mechanics ‘paddled’ down the pitlane in a crate on wheels, with a propeller on the end, pulled by others.
Editing by Frank Pingue/Andrew Both