Jenson Button's world championship campaign appears to have finally hit the buffers after the Briton failed to make it through to the final phase of qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The McLaren driver found himself in an all-or-nothing scrap with Ferrari's Felipe Massa and a host of bit part players, but ultimately came up short of making the ten places that progressed to the pole position shoot-out. Although he came from 14th to fifth in last year's race, earning himself the world title in the process, eleventh and the 42-point deficit he carries into Interlagos suggests that he will now be asked to play a supporting role to Lewis Hamilton.
Button was joined in the bottom seven places by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, the two Toro Rossos of Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi, Nick Heidfeld and Tonio Liuzzi, the Italian lining up just one place ahead of disgruntled Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil on the timesheets, before Sutil takes his five-place penalty.
Red Bull regained the high ground as the track continued to dry, Mark Webber edging Sebastian Vettel in the top two spots, while Robert Kubica underlined Renault's threat in third. Lewis Hamilton and an inspired Michael Schumacher filled the top five, while Rubens Barrichello, Q1 pacesetter Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg, Vitaly Petrov and the fortunate Massa - who pipped Button by just 0.08secs - making the battle for pole.
No further rain is predicted, suggesting slicks could be the order of the day before the final chequered flag of Saturday.