Jenson Button came within one corner of potentially missing the cut in phase two of qualifying for the third grand prix in a row, but was saved by a moment of over-exuberance by Pastor Maldonado.
The Venezuelan was on course to lift himself from 17th into the top ten, but misjudged the speed he was carrying into the final chicane and clouted the Wall of Champions, just as he appeared to do at the end of Q1. Button, meanwhile, had dropped to tenth in the order after Romain Grosjean forced his Lotus among the qualifiers for the pole shoot-out, and was sitting in the McLaren pit at the point at which Maldonado made his mistake, unable to respond as the chequered flag waved.
Maldonado, therefore, takes his place on the sidelines, with a row nine start not reflective of his free practice pace, but the Venezuelan is far from the biggest name among the casualties, with Kimi Raikkonen only twelfth fastest. The Finn had bounced around the drop zone, but his final improvement was not enough to secure a place in the top ten, and he will join the two Sauber drivers, Daniel Ricciardo, Bruno Senna and the unfortunate Nico Hulkenberg, who was holding down a top eight spot for Force India until the final couple of minutes.
Joining Button and Grosjean in the battle for pole will be Sebastian Vettel, who again topped the times, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, Paul di Resta and Felipe Massa, the Brazilian having staged his own late escape from the drop zone.