There used to be engines in Formula 1 called Coventry Climax, but for everyone at Albert Park it was anti-climax as Melbourne’s weather put paid to the eagerly anticipated opening qualifying session of the 2013 season.
While the first 20-minute segment of the one-hour qualifying period did take place, race officials eventually decided it was too wet and dark to risk any further running on a rain-soaked track and the second and third segments will now take place – weather permitting – at 11am on Sunday.
As the 22 drivers climbed into their cars for the scheduled 5pm start, heavy rain swept across the parkland circuit and delayed it by 10 minutes… then 10 more… and another 10.
When Q1 got under way at 5.30pm Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was the first car to go off, the Englishman desperately seeking reverse gear to get the car moving again after it was grounded on the exit of Turn 2.
Felipe Massa’s Ferrari had its front wing knocked off on contact with the barriers when he was flicked into a spin at Turn 12, and Australian favourite Mark Webber had to wrestle his Red Bull Renault back on track after an off on his first flying lap.
One man’s meat is another man’s poison, they say, and when the rain briefly eased a brave decision by Jenson Button to switch to Pirelli’s green-walled Intermediate tyres paid instant dividends as the red and silver car, struggling in the dry on Friday, immediately went top.
The litany of minor disasters continued: Charles Pic’s Caterham hit the wall, rookie teammate Giedo van der Garde had several off-track moments, and the 20-minute session ended with Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber Mercedes stopped in the middle of the track after wiping its nose structure off against a barrier.
At that stage the six men eliminated were Williams Renault’s Pastor Maldonado, Gutierrez, Marussia Cosworth pair Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, and the Caterham duo Bianchi and Pic. Valtteri Bottas was the only one of the five rookie drivers to steer his way into Q2 in the other Williams.
While Pic’s time was outside the 107% mark against Nico Rosberg’s eventual session-topping best, the stewards have the discretion to allow him into the race as he has already achieved the requisite time in the dry free practice sessions.
Six of the remaining 16 drivers will be eliminated in the 15-minute Q2 segment and the 10-minute Q1 segment will see the remaining 10 fight it out for pole position.