Sebastian Vettel, the polewinner for the past three Chinese Grands Prix will not be in the mix for a fourth top spot after failing to improve on his final flying lap and missing the cut for Q3 in Shanghai.

The German, running the older-spec exhaust on his RB8, had looked unhappy with his car all weekend, and continually questioned his engineers about whether his qualifying time looked likely to be enough to make the grade. Dropping to eleventh when Romain Grosjean hauled his Lotus into the top ten in the final seconds of Q2, however, the world champion was unable to respond, his car unstable at the rear and not generating any confidence in the driver, and will start eleventh as a result.

The German's shock exit at least took some of the heat off Felipe Massa, after the Brazilian was also bumped from a tenuous top ten position. The Ferrari man will start alongside the world champion on row six, almost a moral victory for a driver under the cosh at the moment, while Pastor Maldonado - possible penalty pending - Bruno Senna, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo all also missed out on a place in the pole position shoot-out.

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Compounding Vettel's woe was the fact that team-mate Mark Webber posted the fastest time of the session, lapping three-tenths faster than the German as he headed the two Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen at the head of the list. Jenson Button, after a brief flirtation with the 'drop zone', Fernando Alonso, Grosjean, Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez were the others to make the top ten.