The early benefits of Formula 1's new KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology have been called into question after five of the seven cars using it in Melbourne dropped out before the final qualifying phase of Q3 - and the best-placed could manage no higher than seventh.

Only Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, Renault and BMW-Sauber star Nick Heidfeld elected to fit the controversial energy-saving devices to their cars Down Under - and, perhaps tellingly, they were amongst the earliest to be dumped out of contention.

Nelsinho Piquet went first - a lowly 17th in Q1 - followed by former world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso (twelfth), Heidfeld (eleventh) and McLaren pairing Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton (14th and 15th respectively) all in Q2.

The only KERS-equipped drivers to make it through to the top ten shoot-out were Ferrari duo Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, and even they languished in the lower half of the Q3 order at the chequered flag.

By contrast, Robert Kubica in the other BMW - a man who chose not to run KERS because of his greater weight than team-mate Heidfeld and the negative effect that would likely produce - qualified fifth, and the Pole admitted that the system 'can have a big influence'...for good and for bad.

"I think KERS can have a big influence, if you have it on-board or not," the Pole reflected, "so I think this is the main key. I'm not expecting more overtaking due to the aerodynamic changes, just maybe if some cars in front of you are not using KERS and you have additional power. Then it might be a bit easier, but it's still quite difficult, I think."

In conserving kinetic energy, the devices convert that into power 'boosts' that can be used for between six and seven seconds every lap - an initiative that it is hoped will increase passing opportunities in the top flight.

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