Sebastien Buemi bowed out of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the first hurdle, after being pipped at the post by Toro Rosso team-mate Jaime Alguersuari.
The Spaniard had languished just ahead of the newcomer teams since being dumped into the drop zone by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, and waited until after the chequered flag had fallen to find enough of an improvement to usurp Buemi in the 17th - and final safe - position. Buemi, running behind him on the track, then went perilously close to the barriers at the end of the lap and came up a tenth short of recovering his place in Q2.
As expected, the Swiss driver was joined in heading for the exit by Lotus, Virgin and HRT, with Jarno Trulli getting the edge of Heikki Kovalainen for a place on row nine, while Timo Glock and Bruno Senna won their respective intra-team battles.
At the sharp end, top spot on the timesheets was fought over by three of the four world championship contenders, with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso all taking turns to lower then benchmark before the Spaniard eventually emerged on top. Vettel and Hamilton completed the top three, with the fourth contender, Mark Webber, fourth fastest, just ahead of Jenson Button, who overcame an early brake problem to secure a place in the top five.