The demise of HRT over the F1 off-season has brought greater implications for the opening phase of qualifying in 2013, and Pastor Maldonado became the first victim of them.

With only two 'minnow' teams now in the field, two bigger names will likely join them in missing the Q1 cut at each grand prix, and the Venezuelan joined Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez in the 'drop zone' after the opening session in Melbourne.

The 20-minute phase had been delayed three times before it finally got underway 30 minutes late, and the tricky conditions that caused the postponement continued to have an effect, with drivers of all experience being caught out.

Maldonado, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Sergio Perez all spun or took to the grass without significant damage, while Giedo van der Garde, Felipe Massa and Gutierrez all found the wall to the detriment of their front wings.

Hamilton had posted the first flying lap, but quickly found his time subsumed, and the benchmark continued to come down as team-mate Nico Rosberg, Jean-Eric Vergne and Sebastian Vettel all improved the mark. Once the target got to 1min 47secs, there was a rush for intermediates, led by Jenson Button and Paul di Resta.

The McLaren man duly vaulted to the top of the standings with two fastest times, but then found himself pushed down the order as the conditions continued to improve. Alonso took another turn at the top, before Rosberg regained the initiative in the closing moments.

At the other end, meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas and Maldonado both improved their times, but only the Finn escaped the cut - the only rookie to do so as Maldonado joined Gutierrez, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton, van der Garde and Charles Pic on the sidelines as the Mexican's heavy impact with the barriers at turn twelve - which still features parts from Massa's earlier accident at the same spot - brought out yellow flags.

A heavy rain shower after the end of Q1 forced a further delay in qualifying, and with the light fading the decision was finally taken to abandon qualifying for the day and resume at 11am local time on Sunday morning (midnight GMT) - see separate story.?

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