Neither Force India driver made it through to the third and final phase of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, but there was reason to celebrate for the home fans.
Adrian Sutil briefly topped the times after being the first man on track, but was quickly usurped by champion-elect Sebastian Vettel and then dropped down the order as the other frontrunners emerged to secure their places in the pole position shoot-out. With six minutes of the 15 remaining, the German had already slipped into the 'drop zone', escaped it momentarily after fitting a second set of tyres, but did not have enough in hand to prevent improvements elsewhere from bumping him back into the bottom seven. Team-mate Paul di Resta was equally unfortunate, unable to set a time until the closing moments of the session, and then improving only to twelfth.
That allowed local favourite Kamui Kobayashi, fresh from topping Q1, to progress into the pole shoot-out, just one race after starting from the back of the midfield group after crashing in Singapore. The Sauber driver will be the outsider in the battle for pole, but delighted the thousands of fans that had made the pilgrimage to Suzuka.
Also missing the cut, less surprisingly, were the two Williams of Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado, who defied practice predictions by out-pacing the two Toro Rossos. The sick Sergio Perez, who has contracted a dose of flu, completed those missing out after failing to complete a lap.
Lewis Hamilton underlined McLaren's threat for pole by pipping Vettel for fastest time, with Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Vitaly Petrov, the recovering Bruno Senna and Kobayashi in the shoot-out.