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Rain chaos disrupts Australian GP qualifying


Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico attempts to rejoin the race after failing to take a corner during the qualifying session at the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16, 2013. Photo - AFP

Race officials postponed the final two sessions of qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix until Sunday's race day after heavy rain led to treacherous track conditions. Only the first session was finished at the sodden Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne with the start of the second session delayed twice before officials abandoned attempts to complete qualifying for grid positions.

Steady rain made for chaotic driving conditions in the first 20-minute session before the six slowest drivers were eliminated, leaving 16 drivers to continue to the second session. But drivers sat in their garages in the pit lane waiting for the rain to ease before the decision came to postpone qualifying. The second session will start at 11:00 am (0000 GMT) Sunday, six hours before the race gets under way.

"It's a shame because of the weather but absolutely the right decision was made to stop the qualifying or postpone it for tomorrow," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. "The conditions are just deteriorating too quickly, particularly with the daylight and too much standing water. So hopefully this will blow through tonight and we'll be back in the morning."

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany was quickest in the challenging first session in a time of 1min 43.380sec. Last season's championship runner-up Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari was second (1:43.850) ahead of French Lotus driver Romain Grosjean (1:44.284) and Mexican McLaren driver Sergio Perez.

Australia's big hope Mark Webber in a Red Bull was fifth ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and world champion Sebastian Vettel in another Red Bull was seventh. But it was a lottery in the slippery conditions, with several drivers losing control on the greasy track.

Massa had a spin out of Turn 12 with the nose of his car slamming into the barriers but was able to continue. Britain's Lewis Hamilton spun his Mercedes at Turn 2, glanced the wall and came to a stop but was able to reverse his car and rejoin the session, suffering some rear wing end plate damage.

Perez showed great skill when avoiding sliding into the barriers, but Frenchman Charles Pic shunted his Caterham into the wall heading around the back of the circuit. In the final moments of the first qualifying session Mexican Esteban Gutierrez had a heavy shunt, crunching his Sauber bodywork.

The six drivers to drop out after Q1 were Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Gutierrez, Jules Bianchi (Marussia), Max Chilton (Marussia), Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) and Pic. "When you're sat in the car for half an hour and the pit lane looks like a river, it's slightly unnerving," Chilton said.

Venezuelan Maldonado was candid in his assessment of his Williams car: "We need to work very hard to sort the problems. The car is undriveable at the moment and we need to work. That's it."

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