March 15th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix has been split into two days, after rain and looming darkness made it impossible to complete Q2 and Q3 on Saturday as scheduled. The results of Q1, which took place in very wet conditions, will stand and determine which drivers can take part in Q2. Qualifying will resume on Sunday morning at 11:00am local time in Melbourne.
Standing water and persistent rain caused three 10 minute delays, half an hour in total, to the start of Q1, the conditions simply being too dangerous for Formula One cars. The FIA medical car went round the track five minutes before each scheduled start, and only after its third trip was the track declared fit for qualfiying after the rain had eased. When the session eventually got underway, the cars flooded out onto the track, all of the drivers keen to get a lap in early in case the rain intensified. The Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were first out onto the circuit, and Hamilton set the first lap time - 1m50.036. But even before a lap time had been set, Caterham rookie Giedo van der Garde had left the track on the exit of turn 5, losing his front wing against the barrier and demonstrating just how difficult conditions were.
Hamilton's first flying lap was immediately beaten by his own team-mate. Nico Rosberg blitzed Hamilton's time by two full seconds, looking comfortable and assured in his Mercedes in the wet conditions. Hamilton, for his part, lost the back end of his car in turn 2 and went gently backwards into the barrier, damaging the right endplate of his rear wing and becoming beached on the grass on the exit of the corner. He managed to get back on track by engaging reverse gear and carried on, the damage to his rear wing not hindering his progress too much. It is not yet clear if Hamilton will be penalised for reversing on the track - driving against the flow of traffic is not permitted in Formula One, but he was in a dangerous position, and may get away with it for that reason.
The times started to fall as the track conditions improved, and with five minutes remaining in Q1, Jenson Button went quickest on intermediate tyres, a second faster than the drivers running on full wets. All of the drivers switched to intermediates and the times continued to fall, with Nico Rosberg returning to the top of the times right at the end of the session. He finished on top ahead of Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean.
It was a session of many spins, as quite a few drivers missed the high-speed turn 12 and went across the grass instead. Felipe Massa lost the back-end of his Ferrari on the exit of turn 12 and wiped the front wing off his car on the barrier to the inside of the track, but was able to continue and pitted for repairs before setting the sixth fastest time of Q1. Right at the end of the session, Esteban Gutierrez had an almost identiacal accident, but was unable to continue and waited to be rescued by the marshalls. Charles Pic also crashed right at the end of the session, spinning in turn 10 and losing his front wing against the wall before recovering to the pits. He was as a result unable to set a time within 107% of the fastest Q1 time as required to qualify for the race. He will have to request permission from the stewards to take the grid on Sunday, but that should not be a problem as he has demonstrated sufficient pace during the Free Practice sessions this weekend.
The start of Q2 was delayed due to the need to clean up debris from all of the crashes, and then the rain came down heavily again, which meant further delays to clear standing water. With the sky darkening as daylight started to fade, it became clear that completion of Q2 and Q3 would not be possible, and the stewards took a decision to delay the rest of qualfiying until Sunday morning.
At the end of Q1, the six drivers eliminated were Pastor Maldonado, Esteban Gutierrez, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic. The remaining 16 drivers will take to the track at 11am local time tomorrow for Q2, and thereafter the top ten will compete for pole position in Q3. In the event of Q2 and Q3 not taking place, the grid will be determined in order of car numbers, which will put Sebastian Vettel on pole. There was an attempt by some of the teams to change that rule to allow the Q1 times to determine the grid, but that change was blocked by Red Bull, who have the most to gain from a numerical grid.
The results of Q1 are:
|5||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:44,472||1,092||10|
|7||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:44,657||1,277||11|
|12||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:45,601||2,221||10|
|16||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:47,330||3,950||10|
|21||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:49,519||6,139||11|