Qualifying for the 2013 F1 Australian Grand Prix has been postponed until Sunday morning, after heavy rain showers caused a series of lengthy delays to proceedings on Saturday afternoon.
"It's a shame because of the weather but absolutely the right decision was made to stop the qualifying, or postpone it for tomorrow," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "The conditions are just deteriorating too quickly, particularly with the daylight and too much standing water."
The initial start to Q1 was delayed by half an hour because of a cloudburst over the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne. Qualifying did finally get underway, with the wet track causing a number of incidents as drivers including Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Esteban Gutierrez and Giedo van der Garde all had spins.
However, a drier line started to appear before the end and drivers had even switched to intermediate tyres by the time that the chequered flag came out.
But as soon as the session ended, another cloudburst soaked the track again, leading to an initial decision for another ten minute delay before the start of Q2. As the rain persisted, this delay was further extended with a restart not due until 6.50pm local time.
The problem now was the rapidly fading light. All of the events over the Australian GP weekend are scheduled for late afternoon for TV coverage reasons, and the mounting delays meant that sunset was growing imminent. With the heavy cloud cover adding to the gathering gloom, and a further pulse of rain causing a final delay, Charlie Whiting and the race officials had no choice but to declare qualifying over for the day.
Amid confusion over the exact procedures for how to handle a qualifying session interrupted midway through, the decision was taken to pick up with Q2 on Sunday morning at 11am local time (midnight GMT) with the race following as scheduled six hours later.
Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber), Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton (Marussia) and Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic (Caterham) will play no further part in the deferred qualifying session, having already been eliminated at the end of the sodden Q1 session. Pic failed to make it within 107% of lead time set by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, but he will likely be allowed to start the race assuming that his car can be repaired in time.
The forecast for Sunday (for the delayed qualifying and for the race itself) is much better, with a return of sunshine and dry conditions hoped for.