Rain forces Australian GP qualifying to Sunday

By Chris Lines, AP, 16 March 2013
© AP Photo/Rob Griffith

Qualifying for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia will be completed Sunday after a series of rain delays and darkness prevented the running of second and third sessions Saturday.

A wet first session of qualifying was completed after a half-hour postponement, but a succession of delays to Q2 meant it was becoming too dark to hold the remaining sessions, and a series of heavy showers made the Albert Park street circuit too dangerous.

Both qualifying and race at the Australian Grand Prix begin at 5 p.m. local time to satisfy European television audiences, meaning there is little room for delays before the sun sets.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was fastest in Q1 ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Lotus' Romain Grosjean. Among the six drivers eliminated in the session was Williams driver Pastor Maldonado.

Race stewards had the discretion to choose to base the grid on the Q1 times or complete qualifying on Sunday, and chose the latter.

Qualifying on Sunday is unusual but not unprecedented, with the grids for both the 2004 and 2010 Japanese Grands Prix decided race day due to bad weather on the Saturday.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh understood that fans were disappointed with not seeing a full qualifying session, but said there was no chance of letting the show go on due to the danger of racing in low visibility and grip.

"Nobody wants to cancel," Whitmarsh said. "We have to respect the fact that this show, this piece of entertainment, is inherently dangerous enough."

Button said, like many sports, F1 was not possible to run in certain conditions.

"We are not alone in not playing and not racing in these conditions and as Martin said, we have a car and tyres that are good enough in certain conditions but this is just impossible," he said. "And it's not about the show when it's like this, it's way too dangerous."

Button said F1 was a challenging sport for drivers under normal conditions, but even the latest racing technology could not contend with heavy rains and sodden tracks.

"When it gets too wet for these tyres, it doesn't matter what speed you're doing, you will aquaplane," he said. "The tyre cannot take a certain amount of water."

The second session of qualifying will begin at 11 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) Sunday, making it a long day for teams and drivers with the race set to start six hours later.

"I don't think it compromises the race, if anything it's better because you get a bit of a warm-up," Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton said. "Your body should be more energized and ready for the race so it should be interesting."

The six drivers who were eliminated in Q1 will have the luxury of arriving at the track later. Maldonado qualified 17th, followed by Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez -- who was among several drivers who spun off the track in Q1 -- Marussia pair Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, and the two Lotus cars of Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic.

Australian favourite Mark Webber was fifth in Q1, two places ahead of his Red Bull teammate and triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, with the two separated by Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne was ninth, a place ahead of Hamilton. The Briton, in his first qualifying session with his new team, was the first casualty, sliding backwards into a tyre wall and breaking his rear wing.

Massa was next to go, caught out by the standing water at Turn 12, as he spun into the wall and through a large pool of water. Though he lost his front wing, the Brazilian was able to drive back to the pits; a lucky break as he could easily have done enough damage to end his day and have him starting at the back of the grid.

Lotus' van der Garde and Pic also had major offs, while Gutierrez went off at the same spot as Massa, going into an uncontrollable spin and bouncing off the wall, ending his session.

Pic's Q1 time was outside the 107 percent relative to the best time in qualifying, which ordinarily would have ruled him out of Sunday's race. Race officials, however, can make allowances for unusual circumstances including wet qualifying conditions.

More rain is forecast for Sunday, although it is not expected to be as heavy as Saturday's downpours.


AP Sports Writer Neil Frankland contributed to this report.


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