Pastor Maldonado was the odd man out when the chequered flag fell on the opening qualifying session at Interlagos, condemning him to a row nine start for the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Williams driver, who started on the back row in Abu Dhabi as the result of taking a ninth engine in 2011, bounced in and out of the drop zone before Sebastien Buemi's late improvement pushed him back into 18th spot. Another flying lap was available to the Venezuelan, but he was unable to improve his position and joined the six expected casualties in the bottom seven.

Buemi had been fortunate to make it through, having missed the entire Saturday morning practice session, but both Team Lotus cars showed potential before also being condemned to their familiar 19th and 20th positions, with Heikki Kovalainen again ahead of Jarno Trulli. HRT got the better of a troubled Marussia Virgin squad, with Tonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo out-pacing Jerome d'Ambrosio and Timo Glock, after the German complained of a lack of traction and tyre woes.

At the front of the field, Jenson Button emerged on top of the pile with a lap of 1min 13.281secs putting him ahead of McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.