Williams maintained its sorry record of losing a driver in each opening qualifying session of 2013 as Valtteri Bottas was unable to keep hold of a place above the drop zone in China.
The Finn was the last driver to set a time in Q1 at the Shanghai International Circuit, but an ill-handling FW35 was only briefly able to raise him above the bottom six, and improvements from Toro Rosso duo Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo quickly dumped the rookie back into danger.
Bottas will start 17th for the third round of the season, penalties elsewhere pending, and will line up ahead of fellow newcomer Esteban Gutierrez, who missed the cut for a second time, after similarly failing to make the grade in Melbourne.
The pair join the usual suspects in the early bath, despite a spirited effort from Jules Bianchi, who had Marussia on the edge of its seats as he hovered above the trapdoor until the final couple of minutes. The Frenchman's effort could be explained by the fact that his opening salvo was conducted on the softer rubber while the likes of Toro Rosso opted for the medium compound, and was undone when those in danger benefited from the faster tyre late on.
Bianchi will be joined on row ten by Marussia team-mate Max Chilton, while Charles Pic heads Caterham colleague Giedo van der Garde at the back of the field.
Mercedes set the pace at the other end of the timesheets, with Lewis Hamilton clocking a 1min 35.793secs lap to edge out team-mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.