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Qualifying hour for the Australian Grand Prix really couldn't have presented more challenging circumstances for the Marussia F1 Team driver line-up of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton. They left the pitlane for their debut shoot-out with their MR02 cars shod in the Pirelli Extreme Wet tyre and took to a track that had been saturated by more than two hours of heavy rain. It was a true test of their mettle - one which they passed with flying colours.
Dark clouds began looming just prior to the Free Practice 3 session. In the final hour of preparation for qualifying, both drivers completed installation laps and then Jules left the garage and was able to complete five laps in the dry before the heavens opened, setting the 14th fastest time before the session was halted for 25 minutes. Max meanwhile was held up in the garage when he experienced a problem selecting first gear for the start of his first run. A software glitch was rectified but not before he had lost the opportunity of some dry running to prepare for qualifying.
As it happened, experience of a dry track was not required for their maiden Q1, which took place on a circuit that at times resembled a river rather than a racetrack. Several more experienced drivers battled to keep their cars on track but Jules and Max kept cool heads and their cars on the asphalt, delivering performances which belied their youth and level of F1 experience. They ended the day P19 and P20 respectively out of 22 drivers. Q2 and Q3 have been postponed until Sunday morning at 11.00hrs local time.
Jules Bianchi: "These were very challenging conditions for my qualifying debut, especially as none of my limited pre-season testing experience with the Team was in the wet. I can't deny it was disappointing - and a little daunting! Yesterday's dry running showed a lot of promise so it would have been nice to get a better feel for where we are in performance terms, but we just had to make the best of it. In the end though I am very happy with the job we did today and where we have ended up. Clearly we were not able to show our full potential and yet we ended up in the right place relative to the cars around us - both ahead of Caterham and close to the cars ahead. So I look forward to a return to dry conditions - which is what we hope to see tomorrow - and to my first Formula 1 Grand Prix. To be honest, whatever the weather brings, this is an exciting moment for me and one I have been looking forward to for a long time."
Max Chilton: "I'm pretty pleased with how today has gone when you look at the circumstances. I hadn't really expected to be sitting in the garage for 30 minutes seeing a river forming on the track outside when I'd contemplated my first F1 qualifying experience. With that in mind, I'm really encouraged with how we fared. With the conditions starting to clear a little in the dying minutes of the Q1 session I knew everything hinged on that final lap. We were improving in each sector so I knew we would be okay, it's just a little disappointing that my last lap was affected by the Yellow flag. Now my thoughts turn to tomorrow and I can't wait, rain or shine."
John Booth, Team Principal: "It was a big 'ask' of two rookie drivers to face a qualifying session like the one we've experienced today, but then we have absolute faith in our line-up and that has been rewarded today. Both Jules and Max performed admirably in what must have been very daunting conditions and we are very pleased with where we find ourselves today. I have to admit that we were disappointed to be faced with a wet qualifying. The car looked good in the dry yesterday and we were hoping to use qualifying as the barometer it can be in showcasing relative outright performance. Nevertheless, that's racing and we'll continue to feel encouraged by a very positive start to the weekend - and hopefully the season."
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