Jean-Eric Vergne failed to progress beyond the opening phase of qualifying for the eighth time this season after spinning at the final corner on his fastest lap.
Although the Frenchman managed to get another lap in before time expired, it wasn't enough to overhaul Kamui Kobayashi, despite the Sauber man failing to use his final effort to better effect, and Vergne joined the usual bottom six, where Heikki Kovalainen led the way from Charles Pic and Caterham team-mate Vitaly Petrov. The Russian had to haul himself out of the clutches of the HRTs before ending the 20-minute session sandwiched between the two Marussias.
Bruno Senna also sat precariously on the brink of the drop zone, but had been badly baulked by Sergio Perez while on a quick lap, and a post-session sanction is now expected for the Mexican, who clocked the 13th-best lap of the session.
At the front of the field, Lewis Hamilton continued his run at the top of the times, posting a 1min 41.497secs best despite running wide earlier in his run. The Briton was able to sit out the final; few minutes of the session, however, confident that his time would be safe. Future team-mate Nico Rosberg got closest to the McLaren, lapping half a second slower despite bolting on the softer Pirellis for his final run after languishing down the order for much of the session. Mark Webber was pushed down to third by the German, but remained ahead of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Webber's Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel appeared on the back foot after missing most of FP3, and brushed the wall on the run to the final turn as he attempted to get more out of his RB8. The German ended the session in eighth spot, behind both the soft-shod Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, while Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button - both early pacesetters - rounded out the top ten.