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Australian GP qualifying put over to Sunday due to rain

MELBOURNE (AFP) –

Kimi Raikkonen powers ahead during the qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16, 2013

Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland powers ahead of the pack during the wet Q1 qualifying session for the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16, 2013. Rain has forced the postponement of the final two qualifying sessions in the Australian Grand Prix until Sunday’s race day.

Rain forced the postponement of the final two qualifying sessions for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix until Sunday’s race day, officials said on Saturday.

Only the first qualifying session was completed in treacherous conditions and race officials delayed the start of the second session twice before deciding to complete qualifying for grid positions on Sunday.

Steady rain made for chaotic driving in the first 20-minute session before the six slowest drivers were eliminated, leaving 16 drivers to continue to the second session.

But drivers sat in their team garages in the pit lane waiting for the rain to ease before the decision came to postpone qualifying.

The second session will start at 11:00 (0000 GMT) Sunday, six hours before the race gets under way on Melbourne’s Albert Park street circuit.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany was quickest in the inconclusive first session in a time of 1min 43.380sec.

Last season’s championship runner-up Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari was second (1:43.850) ahead of French Lotus driver Romain Grosjean (1:44.284) and Mexican McLaren driver Sergio Perez.

Australia’s big hope Mark Webber in a Red Bull was fifth ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and world champion Sebastian Vettel in another Red Bull was seventh.

But it was a lottery in the slippery conditions, with several drivers losing control on the greasy track.

Massa had a spin out of Turn 12 with the nose of his car slamming into the barriers but was able to continue.

Britain’s Lewis Hamilton spun his Mercedes at Turn 2, glanced the wall and came to a stop but was able to reverse his car and rejoin the session, suffering some rear wing end plate damage.

Perez showed great skill when avoiding sliding into the barriers, but Frenchman Charles Pic shunted his Caterham into the wall heading around the back of the circuit.

In the final moments of the first qualifying session Mexican Esteban Gutierrez had a heavy shunt, crunching his Sauber.

The six drivers to drop out after Q1 were Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Gutierrez, Jules Bianchi (Marussia), Max Chilton (Marussia), Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) and Pic.

“When you’re sat in the car for half an hour and the pit lane looks like a river, it’s slightly unnerving,” Chilton said.

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