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Rain forces F1 Aussie qualifying to Sunday

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Qualifying for the Formula One season opener will be completed Sunday after a series of rain delays and darkness prevented the running of second and third sessions Saturday.

A wet first session of qualifying was completed after a half-hour delay, but a succession of delays of Q2 meant it was becoming too dark to hold the remaining sessions.

Both qualifying and race at the Australian Grand Prix begin at 5 p.m. local time to satisfy European television audiences.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was fastest in Q1 ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Lotus' Romain Grosjean. Among the six drivers eliminated in the session was Williams driver Pastor Maldonado.

Race stewards had the option of basing the grid on the Q1 times or completing qualifying Sunday, and chose the latter.

Qualifying on Sunday is unusual but not unprecedented, with the grids for both the 2004 and 2010 Japanese Grands Prix decided on race day due to bad weather on the preceding Saturday.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh was among those urging stewards to base the grid on Q1 times - his drivers Sergio Perez and Jenson Button performed above expectation in the session by setting the fourth- and eighth-fastest times, respectively.

``The stewards can decide the grid based on what has already happened or decide to run Q2 and Q3 tomorrow,'' Whitmarsh said shortly before stewards announced their decision. ``However, it's a very busy program tomorrow and I'm sure some of the historic events won't be pleased if they are moved.''

The second session of qualifying will begin at 11 a.m. local time Sunday, making it a long day for teams and drivers with the race set to start six hours later.

``I don't think it compromises the race, if anything it's better because you get a bit of a warm-up,'' Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton said. ``Your body should be more energized and ready for the race so it should be interesting.''

The six drivers who were eliminated in Q1 will be able to arrive at the track later. Maldonado qualified 17th, followed by Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez - who was among several drivers who spun off the track in Q1 - Marussia pair Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, and the two Lotus cars of Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic.

Australian favorite Mark Webber was fifth in Q1, two places ahead of his Red Bull teammate and triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, with the two separated by Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne was ninth, a place ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

More rain is forecast for Sunday, although it is not expected to be as heavy as Saturday's downpours.

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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