Wet weather at the Japanese Grand Prix again produced something of a random appearance to the timesheets at Fuji Speedway, with only the bottom four drivers occupying places they might have been expected to fill.
Overnight rain left the circuit wet for the start of the final 60 minutes of preparations before qualifying but, with no further precipitation, the surface dried throughout, allowing times to improve. While never threatening to challenge the 1min 18.383secs benchmark established by Timo Glock on Friday afternoon, the improving conditions allowed some unsung names to appear towards the top of a still-close ranking, with Robert Kubica finally coming out on top as he timed his final lap just right.
The Pole was involved in a showdown with Timo Glock, Nelson Piquet Jr and David Coulthard, who were all circulating at the track reached its driest, while BMW Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld and Williams' Kazuki Nakajima pushed themselves into the mix without threatening top spot.
Kubica eventually left the target at 1min 25.087secs, with Glock his closest challenger at +0.084secs, but the opposition was marginalised slightly by the decision of the two main title protagonists - Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa - opting to sit out the end of the session. The Brazilian emerged as the better-placed of the pair, in seventh spot to Hamilton's eleventh.
Both the leading pointscorers took their turn at the top of the order during the hour, with Hamilton supplanting McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen at around 30 minutes and Massa biding his time before benefiting from the improving conditions to topple his rival by a couple of tenths after the field ditched the 'extreme' wet tyres.
Behind Glock, Piquet Jr, Heidfeld and Nakajima completed the top five, ahead of Coulthard, Massa Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. Kovalainen, who will be expected to back up Hamilton's title bid from this weekend, ended the session in 15th, one spot ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who had only the expected 'bottom four' - the two Hondas and two Force Indias - keeping him off the bottom of the pile. The top 13 drivers all lapped within a second of Kubica's pace.
Conditions are forecast to continue improving as the weekend heads towards qualifying, where Hamilton and Massa are expected to pick up their season-long duel for supremacy.