Lewis Hamilton's defence of the British Grand Prix will start from the back row of the grid after a last-ditch attempt to make the second phase of qualifying was ended by a sizeable accident for friend Adrian Sutil.
Hamilton crossed the line to start his final flying effort knowing that he had one chance to improve on his time but, before he'd even got a third of the way around the lap, Sutil's Force India speared backwards into the retaining wall at Abbey, bringing out the red flags as the German struggled to climb from the cockpit. Although 24 seconds remained on the clock when the session was halted, that would have precluded an out lap, let alone the resumption of his qualifying effort.
To make matters more sour for the local team, Hamilton will be joined in making an early exit by both Force India drivers, Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella being demoted into the drop zone by Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld respectively. Sutil's accident appeared to be the result of a mechanical problem rather than driver error, and brought to an end hopes that a series of development part would have lifted the team firmly into the midfield.
The two Toro Rossos rounded out the slowest five qualifiers, with Sebastien Bourdais getting a rare upper hand on rookie team-mate Sebastien Buemi, with the Swiss driver starting alongside Hamilton on the tenth row. Heikki Kovalainen, Nick Heidfeld and both Ferrari drivers all escaped the bottom five in the final six minutes, but both the McLaren and BMW appeared troubled.
Williams' Kazuki Nakajima ended the session fastest of all, having just posted a 1min 18.530secs effort before the interruption. The Japanese driver thus usurped Mark Webber from top spot, denying Red Bull a potential 1-2 after Webber and Vettel took turns in P1 with likely contenders Jarno Trulli and Nico Rosberg. Jenson Button was fifth fastest.