Formula 1 World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton did his utmost to break Ferrari's spirit by turning what had looked like being a scarlet benefit in qualifying for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix into pole position for McLaren-Mercedes – with title rival Felipe Massa able to do no better than fifth.
With the sun trying to break through the clouds above Fuji Speedway, Renault's Nelsinho Piquet and home hero Kazuki Nakajima were the first men to tip-toe gently out onto the wet-but-drying circuit on slick tyres at the beginning of Q1. The latter, however, immediately demonstrated just how tricky the track surface still was following the overnight and morning rain, by missing his braking point into turn one and slotting in behind his fellow rookie on the timesheets.
Toyota star Timo Glock – who had paced Friday's running but blotted his copybook somewhat by spinning on an 'out' lap in FP3 – displaced Nakajima to move into second, with the sister Williams of Nico Rosberg rapidly doing likewise to go third, and the second TF108 of Jarno Trulli slotting into fourth.
The Italian would, however, steal the top spot away from Piquet with his second lap, as Massa became the first 'big name' to show his hand, and the Brazilian straightaway took nearly three tenths of a second off new quickest man Glock's best marker.
Hamilton was next to take to the fray, the McLaren-Mercedes ace throwing the gauntlet well-and-truly down to Massa by lopping almost a full half a second off the Ferrari man's effort, and out-pacing team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to the tune of a gaping eight tenths.
Kimi Raikkonen in the second scarlet machine was also some way off the leading pace at almost six tenths adrift of Hamilton in third, before being displaced by compatriot Kovalainen just moments later.
The two BMW-Saubers and the Renault of surprise Singapore Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, were continuing to play 'chicken' with the track conditions as they remained in the pit-lane whilst the clock ticked down. Robert Kubica – who had gone fastest on a drying line right at the end of FP3 in the morning – was the first of them to set a representative lap time, moving into sixth, before close friend Alonso bumped him down a spot by stealing the position for himself shortly afterwards.
With a little under eight minutes remaining, Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella, Nakajima, Jenson Button – less happy with the behaviour of his recalcitrant Honda this weekend than team-mate Rubens Barrichello – and Adrian Sutil remained in the danger zone, whilst further up the order Trulli improved to fourth and Piquet stunned everybody by closing to within a tenth of pace-setter and erstwhile GP2 Series championship rival Hamilton at the head of the timesheets.
Button was the first of those in danger to haul himself up to safety in eleventh, whilst fellow Brit David Coulthard in the Red Bull Racing jumped well clear of the cut by vaulting into fourth – pushing the driver who will take his place at the Milton Keynes-based outfit next year, Sebastian Vettel, down to 16th.