Despite suggestions that either Williams driver would be favourite to join the usual faces in exiting qualifying at the first hurdle in Japan, an unspecified problem for Nico Rosberg means that the Mercedes driver will be starting at the back of the field on Sunday afternoon.
The German had finished eighth fastest in morning practice, but had engineers swarming over his car from the start of qualifying, all attempting to rectify what was thought to be an hydraulic problem in time for him to get at least one flying lap. In the end, however, that proved impossible, and Rosberg will start the race from 23rd position, alongside the HRT of Tonio Liuzzi which also never made it on to the track and has just a dozen laps on the clock after two troubled practice sessions.
Joining the luckless pair on the sidelines after the opening 20 minute session were the expected Lotus, Virgin and remaining HRT drivers, although Heikki Kovalainen, in 18th, was only three-tenths from making it through at the expense of Jaime Alguersuari. Rosberg notwithstanding, Kovalainen was in the mix for Q2 until Rubens Barrichello improved his mark midway through the session, and headed team-mate Jarno Trulli, Jerome d'Ambrosio, Timo Glock and Daniel Ricciardo.
At the other end of the times, Kamui Kobayashi rewarded those Japanese fans in the stands by using soft Pirelli rubber to post the fastest time, a 1min 32.626secs effort, and depose Force India's Adrian Sutil from top spot. The pair took over at the head of the field after the frontrunners, at that point headed by Fernando Alonso and the two McLaren drivers, decided that they had done enough to make the cut.
Behind fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton, Vitaly Petrov completed the top five, from Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel,Sebastien Buemi, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa.