The start of the new Formula One season was thrown into chaos as adverse weather in Melbourne forced the second and third sessions of qualifying to be postponed until Sunday morning.

Heavy rain initially delayed the opening 20-minute Q1 session, which began 30 minutes late but was ultimately completed only for conditions to worsen again almost as soon as it finished.

Race control at Melbourne's Albert Park announced delay after delay before deciding Q2 and Q3 will now take place at midnight Irish time. 

Twice in recent years qualifying has had to be postponed on Saturday and held on Sunday morning, on both occasions in Japan.

In 2004 Typhoon Ma struck the Suzuka circuit, whilst three years ago conditions similar to today resulted in a continual stream of delays until the call was made to wait until race day to hold qualifying.

On this occasion the circumstances are somewhat unusual as Q1 found a window in which it could be completed, but with the remainder to now take place tomorrow.

Appreciably the opening 20-minute session was chaotic and ended with the track strewn with carbon fibre given the number of incidents.

One of the issues given the circuit is not a permanent one - it is effectively a street track housed in the middle of a park - was the lack of drainage.

Just as the first session was scheduled to start a number of marshals were out and about using brooms and squeegees to try and sweep away the standing water, albeit to no avail.

When it finally did begin the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic and Esteban Gutierrez all suffered accidents.

For Hamilton in particular, for a few heartstopping moments it appeared as if his debut qualifying session with Mercedes would end with him floundering like a fish out of water.

On the approach to turn two Hamilton struck a patch of water, forcing him to lock his brakes and slide backwards across the track where he ended up striking a barrier with his rear wing.

As he came to rest, beached on a kerb with his car half on the grass and half on the track, initially it seemed the 28-year-old would be unable to free himself.

Instead, after an attempt to rock himself forwards, Hamilton selected reverse and gingerly manoeuvred backwards and into a position where he could again carry on his way, even with the slight damage to his rear wing.

As for Massa, the Brazilian was fortunate to lose only the front wing of his Ferrari after twice hitting a wall as he spun through 360 degrees before being able to trundle his way back to the pits for repairs.

Six drivers, however, will effectively have the morning off tomorrow, led by Williams' Pastor Maldonado, who went for a lengthy excursion across the grass at one point.

The Venezuelan, who declared his car "undriveable" after finishing Q1, will start 17th.

Behind him will be four of the five rookies in F1 this year, with Gutierrez 18th in his Sauber after ending his first qualifying with a spin into the same wall that accounted for Massa.

For Marussia, in what will be a season-long battle for 10th place in the constructors' championship with Caterham, the team struck an early blow with both their cars outqualifying their main rival.

Jules Bianchi and Britain's Max Chilton will line up 19th and 20th, whilst on the back row will be Van der Garde and Pic, both of whom spun at various points, losing their front wings.

Van der Garde actually contrived to run over the dislodged part, providing a suitably bizarre image to sum up the evening's mayhem.