Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas were the two drivers to join the expected backmarkers in bowing out at the first hurdle in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, but the story of the session was Red Bull struggling for pace.
Neither Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber had a comfortable 20 minutes, leaving it late before venturing out on track and then failing to extract decent pace from Pirelli's medium compound tyre. The pair were among six drivers to opt for the softer rubber but, unlike Adrian Sutil and Kimi Raikkonen, who led the timesheets, the RBR entries managed only 14th and eighth respectively, after taking two laps to set their marks.
Although Vettel slid towards the drop zone after abandoning his final attempt, he was prevented from making an awkward exit as both Vergne and Bottas had completed their runs. Neither was able to escape the bottom six, and joined Jules Bianchi, Charles Pic, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde on the sidelines for Q2. Bianchi's performance was notable once again, as he lapped within a couple of tenths of the Williams driver. Nico Hulkenberg came perilously close to taking an early bath, but complained about being blocked by McLaren's Sergio Perez on his flying lap, which could result in a penalty for the Mexican.
Sutil and Raikkonen were followed by early pacesetter Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean in the top five.