Before the decision was taken to postpone qualifying until Sunday morning, Nico Rosberg set the quickest time of the session in the wet conditions. The Mercedes driver posted a best time of 1:43.380 on the intermediate tires as a drying line began to emerge towards the end of the session.
Following a thirty minute delay, Mercedes lined up at the end of the pit lane in order to avoid the rush, and this move paid off as Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton both set good times on the wet tires. Despite battling a congested track, many of the drivers went close to the Silver Arrows’ times, with Vettel, Vergne and Alonso all vying for top spot during the early part of the session.
Although the conditions were catching many of the drivers out, Jenson Button and Paul di Resta opted to move onto the intermediates, and once Button had gone quickest the rest of the field followed suit to fit the blue-ringed tires.
It was a question of being the last man to take the chequered flag on a drying line. Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was caught out and subsequently eliminated. The final flurry of times failed to see much change due to a yellow flag caused by Esteban Gutierrez who had hit the wall, with the Mexican driver also dropping out in Q1. Marussia managed to stay out late and outqualify closest rivals Caterham, and the yellow flags may have hindered their final efforts.
Edging through were Valtteri Bottas and Adrian Sutil, both of whom will be pleased to have a shot at making Q3 tomorrow.
Qualifying will resume tomorrow morning in Melbourne, with six drivers being eliminated in Q2 before the top ten shootout for pole position.
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”
The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.
“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.