Lewis Hamilton failed to fire on all cylinders in qualifying for the 2012 F1 Grand Prix at Suzuka, and the McLaren
driver admitted that he'd gone in the wrong direction on set-up ahead of the session.
"Today's qualifying session was one of the most disappointing of my year," he admitted. "To be honest, I went the wrong way with the set-up and ended up with too much understeer.
"Until quali, the car had felt great all weekend but I just couldn't make it turn this afternoon," he added. "As a result I just couldn't extract the best from it."
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh added that the late yellow flags resulting from Kimi Raikkonen's spin had also compromised Hamilton's qualifying campaign.
"When he was on his quickest lap, waved yellow flags forced him to back off through the long Spoon corner, costing him quite a lot of time and ruining his lap as a result," pointed out Whitmarsh, although Hamilton himself said that the lap had already been too far off the pace even before he'd had to back off and that the best he could have managed was fourth or fifth.
"I was nowhere, I made a big mistake with the set-up," he told the media after the session. "When qualifying starts you can't do anything to fix it, so I was just driving round with masses and masses of understeer."
Hamilton said that he'd experienced the same understeer in second practice on Friday, and that set-up changes to address it resulted in oversteer on Saturday morning which had forced them to revert back to the Friday settings for qualifying. "We went back to the setup we had yesterday and made a couple of small changes to it - but it was a disaster," he said.
He admitted that his poor qualifying session would make tomorrow's race an uphill battle.
"It's going to be a struggle," said Hamilton. "But I'll be pushing my hardest with the set-up I've got, and I hope that, through good tyre management, I'll be able to overtake some of the cars in front of me."
Hamilton certainly wasn't giving up, however, and took heart from his team mate's performance on Saturday: "Jenson showed that the car itself is quite good," he said. "He did a great job today, and our long-run pace wasn't bad [Friday], either.