MELBOURNE // A newly reinstated rule by motorsports' world governing body could see tomorrow's grid for the opening grand prix of the new Formula One season hit by the absence of four cars.
The Federation Internationale d'Automobile (FIA) has re-introduced a rule that stipulates every driver must record a lap time during qualifying that is within 107 per cent of the pace-setter's fastest lap.
The rule was removed last year in an effort to help the championship's new race teams but returns for tomorrow's season-opening Australian Grand Prix. And it could mean Timo Glock and Jerome d'Ambrosio, of Marussia Virgin, and Narain Karthikeyan and Vitantonio Liuzzi, of the Hispania Racing Team (HRT), could miss out on taking to the Albert Park track.
Both Virgin and HRT failed to clock a time within 107 per cent of Jenson Button's 1min 25.854secs — the fastest of the day. The required time would have been 1.31.864, but the Virgins managed only 1.32.1.
"The gap to the top guys is quite big and that's a bit disappointing," Glock said last night. "We have to make the best out of it, get on top of it and make the car quicker."
Ambrosio, Glock's teammate, is making his Formula One debut this weekend and said that despite the concerns regarding tomorrow, yesterday was "a dream come true".
"It was very exciting to drive out of the garage and also to drive here in Albert Park for the first time," he said.
In the case of HRT, the Spanish constructors failed once again to complete a lap after car development issues forced them to remain in their pit for most of the day. Liuzzi received a round of applause when he finally took the F111 to the track with less than three minutes remaining. He failed to clock a lap time.
Karthikeyan, HRT's Indian driver, who is hoping to race this weekend in his first F1 grand prix since 2005, however tried to remain positive.
"Unfortunately we lost a day today, so I think it's going to be a tough weekend undoubtedly, but at least we have made some progress," he said. "Just to trim parts and fit them into a car is a time-consuming process."
Meanwhile, the FIA announced that a minute's silence will be held before the start of the race tomorrow to honour the victims of the recent natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Australia. All 12 race teams are carrying bespoke stickers as a mark of respect to the ongoing situation in Japan.
Felipe Massa, the Ferrari driver, said he was "praying every night" for the Japanese people. "It was really a disaster," he said. "To see what is happening, you don't even see that in the movies."