Sun, Mar 17, 2013 - Page 19 News List

Rain hits Melbourne qualifying

DAMP DOWN UNDER:After a bright, sunny morning at Albert Park, rain disrupted the final practice session for the first Formula One race of the year and rarely relented

Reuters, MELBOURNE, Australia

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany powers through the wet during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Qualifying for the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix will be completed before the race today after heavy rain forced the postponement of the final two sessions yesterday.

The opening segment of qualifying was completed after a delay but, as the rain persisted and the skies grew darker, race officials decided the final two parts would take place at 11am today.

“I absolutely think it’s the right thing to do, to delay it until tomorrow,” said Alan Permane, trackside operations director at Lotus. “The two sessions will finish by 11.35 or something and that will give us plenty of time before five o’clock.”

After a bright, sunny morning at Albert Park, the rain descended in time to disrupt the final practice session and rarely relented after that.

The first section of qualifying started with plenty of water still on the circuit and ended with more rain and bits of car strewn across the track as the drivers struggled to control their machines.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes set the quickest time in that session in one minute 43.380, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean in a Lotus.

McLaren’s Jenson Button escaped an embarrassing exit by making an early gamble on intermediate tires, but Pastor Maldonado of Williams was late to make the change and was one of the six drivers eliminated.

The Venezuelan, a race winner last year in Spain, was accompanied by four of the five rookies, but was not about to blame the weather for his early exit.

“We need to work very hard to solve the problems,” he said. “The car is undriveable at the moment.”

Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, the Marussias of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton as well as Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde were also eliminated.

Charles Pic had a big crash before the end of the session and failed to record a time inside 107 percent of the quickest in his Caterham and so will have to appeal to the stewards to race today.

Hamilton was the first driver to set a lap time, but his day almost came to an end on his next lap when he spun his Mercedes at turn two and bumped into the tire wall before appearing to get bogged down on the trackside grass.

He finally managed to get his car back on the track and, despite his team fearing he had rear wing damage, stayed out on the track to record the 10th-quickest time.

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