But despite the unprecedented disruption to the session it was business as usual for the world champions who locked out the front row of the grid.
Sebastian Vettel took his 37th career pole position as Mark Webber missed out on a clear chance to take pole position for his home race.
The rain that arrived during the final practice session persisted until the start of qualifying, leaving the track fully doused.
The start of Q1 was postponed for half an hour. When it finally began, Mercedes were first to get their cars to the pit lane exit and Lewis Hamilton led the drivers onto the track.
But as he came around at the end of his first lap the car snapped away from him at turn two and clipped the barrier. Hamilton managed to reverse his car back onto the track but the team were concerned about his rear wing damage. After dismissing a call to come in for a replacement, Hamilton secured a place in Q2.
That was just the first of many incidents. Felipe Massa suffered a heavy impact at turn 12, destroying his front wing. Yet surprisingly he was able to continue and, like Hamilton, got through into Q2.
The Caterham pair weren’t so fortunate – neither made it through after separate crashes during the session. Charles Pic’s came in the dying moment of Q1, shortly before Esteban Gutierrez ploughed into the turn 12 barrier much as Massa had.
All three were eliminated along with Pastor Maldonado and the Marussia pair, the latter outqualifying the Caterhams.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
|21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1’49.519|
With the track strewn with debris a further delay was necessary for the marshals to get it into a fit state for qualifying to resume. But by the time they had the rain had returned and now it had settled in.
The start of Q2 was repeatedly delayed but with light fading and sunset approaching the stewards decided there was no choice but to postpone the remaining two sessions until Sunday.
Just over 16 hours later the 17 remaining cars reassembled for Q2. By now the conditions had appreciably improved but the track remained damp.
With the radars showing yet more rain on its way the drivers scrambled onto the track to set times on intermediate tyres. But the rain never arrived and the question instead became whether the track would dry sufficiently for slicks.
McLaren were among those who thought it would, switching both drivers to super-softs mid-session. But Jenson Button quickly decided they wouldn’t work and switched back to intermediates. A late lap was good enough for fourth and a place in the final ten.
Team mate Sergio Perez had a further problem, suspecting a puncture on his first set of super-softs. He came in for a replacement set but could only manage 15th on his McLaren debut.
The lengthy delay didn’t prevent Rosberg from repeating his pace from Q1 and topping the times.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|12||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1’38.134|
|13||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’38.778|
|14||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’39.042|
Tactics for Q3 were split between those who went out on intermediates then switched to super-softs, and those who stayed in the garage and just did a run on the softer slicks. The Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari drivers were in the former camp, while Button was among those who only ran on slicks.
Vettel set the quickest time on intermediates despite sliding wide at the exit of turn 15. He was followed by the two Mercedes, Hamilton fractionally faster than Rosberg.
Button’s switch to slicks proved to be the right move and he duly took over the fastest time. But the fact he did so by just a tenth of a second indicated the other drivers would be able to find more.
Sure enough Hamilton moved the benchmark much further, producing a 1’29.184. But there was still time for more improvements and the times continued to tumble.
As the track dried the drivers found huge chunks of time. Vettel crossed the line with a 1’27.407 and a few corners behind him Mark Webber was going even quicker. But he had an even more costly moment in the penultimate corner, and dropped four tenths of a second to his team mate at the finishing line,
Hamilton improved again but not enough to peg back the Red Bulls, leaving him third. His team mate couldn’t recapture his earlier pace on a drier track and ended up sixth, the Ferraris separating him from the other Mercedes. Rosberg shares row three with Alonso, who Massa pipped to fourth by three thousandths of a second.
Top ten in Q3
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’27.407|
|2||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1’27.827|
|9||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1’29.305|
2013 Australian Grand Prix
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- Positive rating for first race of 2013
- Red Bull and Mercedes not the only ones resorting to team orders
- First Predictions round won by Prateek727
Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty