Formula One’s debutante drivers endured a baptism of fire at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday during a qualifying session cut short by torrential rains.
Four of the five rookies were banished during the first round of qualifying that saw drivers skidding and spinning around a water-logged Albert Park circuit scattered with debris from a number of crashes.
Only Williams’s Valtteri Bottas of Finland scraped into the top 16 drivers who will finish the second and third rounds of qualifying early on Sunday and scramble to make adjustments before the race starts at 5 p.m. local time.
Drivers were confined to their cockpits for a nervous 30-minute wait before the delayed first session as rain bucketed down and staff frantically tried to sweep the track clear of puddles.
“When you are sat in the car for half an hour and the pit lane looks like a river, it is slightly unnerving,” Marussia’s British driver Max Chilton, who will start 20th out of 21 on the grid, told television reporters.
“But when I was out there, the car was a real joy to drive.”
Chilton will start one place behind team mate and fellow debutante Jules Bianchi of France, who nearly span out of the race on his first lap.
Esteban Gutierrez, promoted from reserve driver at Sauber, had the worst of it, smashing into a barrier at turn 12 after losing control and having his car winched off the track.
“It’s not an ideal situation, I feel very sorry for the team but I still have a race tomorrow that I need to focus on, keep my emotions very stable,” said the Mexican, who will start 18th on the grid.
“Unfortunately it was a mistake which I need to avoid in the future.”
Caterham’s Diego Van der Garde will see a second day of action in his F1 debut from last place on the grid, but his more experienced team mate Charles Pic skidded out of contention, having failed to meet the qualifying benchmark by one-hundredth of a second.
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