Melbourne: Qualifying for the Formula One season opener in Australia will be completed on 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 delay, but a succession of delays of Q2 meant it was becoming too dark to hold the remaining sessions.
Both qualifying and race at the Australian Grand Prix begin at 5 pm local time to satisfy European television audiences. 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 was among those urging stewards to base the grid on Q1 times; unsurprisingly as his drivers Sergio Perez and Jenson Button performed above expectation in the sodden session by setting the fourth and eighth-fastest times respectively.
"The stewards can decide the grid based what has already happened or decide to run Q2 and Q3 tomorrow," Whitmarsh said shortly before stewards announced their decision. "However, it's a very busy program tomorrow and I'm sure some of the historic events won't be pleased if they are moved."
The second session of qualifying will begin at 11 am local time on Sunday, making it a long day for teams and drivers with the race set to start six hours later. 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 favorite 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 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton. More rain is forecast for Sunday, although it is not expected to be as heavy as Saturday's downpours.