Lewis Hamilton escaped a potentially embarrassing exit in the first phase of qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix as Bruno Senna was forced to abort a last-ditch lap that could have sealed the Briton's fate.
Despite being tipped as the man to split the Red Bulls at the head of the grid - Sebastian Vettel appears out of reach already - Hamilton was sitting in the pits through the closing moments of Q1, watching helplessly as his name slid down the timesheets. Coming to rest in 17th spot as both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso improved, Hamilton's fate was in Senna's hands but, when the Brazilian made a mistake on his final run, Hamilton was able to breathe easier again.
Alonso fared little better than his rival, having to bolt on a set of Pirelli's supersoft tyres in a bid to survive. His lap wasn't a clean one, however, and the Spaniard only moved from 17th to 16th, albeit safe with only Senna left to cross the line at that points.
The Brazilian's scrappy lap left him on the sidelines just a third of the way through qualifying for the second weekend in a row, and he will join the usual suspects at the back of the grid, lining up ahead of Vitaly Petrov, who got the better of the Caterham battle this time around. Charles Pic, who faces a ten-place grid drop for an engine change, will start from the very back despite out-pacing Timo Glock - the first time the Marussia veteran has been outgunned by a team-mate in Korea - with Pedro de la Rosa getting the better of a brakeless Narain Karthikeyan at HRT.
Vettel duly set the pace, lapping in 1min 38.208secs to lead RBR team-mate Mark Webber and McLaren's Jenson Button in the top three.