Formula 1 qualifying was called off for the first time in six years this morning as lashing rain washed out Saturday’s action at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The three-part hour-long session was due to start at 2pm local time but was delayed three times as the deluge that had started the night before, failed to ease.

Each time the safety car did a lap of the circuit to check the conditions but the rivers running down the hilly circuit and the pools of standing water made it a death trap for F1 cars and the decision that followed was inevitable.

Finally, as the deluge intensified and the light started to fade, stewards decided to call a halt.

By that time all the fans huddled in the rain-battered grandstands had to watch was paper boats, made by mechanics, floating down the pitlane.

It was a shame about the weather but it was the only decision to postpone the qualifying," said Lotus racer Heikki Kovalainen.

Driver concerns centred not on the challenges of driving in the rain but the fact that modern F1 cars aquaplane easily if they hit any significant degree of standing or running water.

Qualifying to decide the grid for tomorrow’s 16th round of the world championship will now be held on Sunday morning, at 10am local time.

Not since a tsunami threatened the coasts of Japan in 2004 amid a string of nationwide safety alerts has a session been delayed by the elements.

A few years before that a practice session here was hit by an earthquake but did not halt the on-track action.