Robert Kubica will be the surprise omission from the pole position shoot-out at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina, the Renault driver missing the Q2 cut for the first time all season.
A late flying lap wasn't enough to save the lanky Pole, as a scrappy effort failed to improve on eleventh place and left him to watch what could be the most intense scrap for pole of the entire 19-race campaign. Kubica, out-qualified by Renault team-mate Vitaly Petrov, will join the two Sauber drivers, Kamui Kobayashi and Nick Heidfeld, the two Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi, Williams' Nico Hulkenberg - poleman in Brazil last Saturday of course - and Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari, who only narrowly escaped Q1 at the expense of team-mate Sebastien Buemi.
All four title contenders made it through to the final round, with Sebastian Vettel topping the times with the only lap of the weekend so far below !min 40secs. The German's 1min 39.874secs effort proved good enough to see of Jenson Button - who showed that he could be a potential spoiler in the title battle after all - with Nico Rosberg taking an unlikely third spot for Mercedes on hard tyres.
Mark Webber got the better of Lewis Hamilton as the pair rounded out the top five, but the Briton was lucky to be there at all, having languished in 17th place for much of the 15-minute session. The McLaren man could also find himself up in front of the stewards for a second time this weekend after an altercation with Felipe Massa that led to him wiping out a bollard-mounted camera.
Fernando Alonso, in sixth, headed the remaining shoot-out qualifiers, a list comprising Massa, Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Petrov.