David Coulthard will start his penultimate grand prix from the rear of the Chinese grid after failing to make it through to the second phase of qualifying in Shanghai.

The Scot needed to find time on his last flying lap, but came up short and condemned himself to 16th spot after a remarkable dearth of final minute excitement. The Red Bull driver had been dumped into the drop zone when expected frontrunner Robert Kubica improved on his last effort, and was baulked slightly by Nick Heidfeld on his final effort.

Kubica appeared on course for a setback to his slim championship ambitions as he languished in 17th spot for much of the session, but a switch to the softer Bridgestone tyres - ahead of schedule for the BMW Sauber team - was enough to push the Pole into 13th spot, before he eventually wound up 14th in the session.

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Coulthard was joined in the bottom five by Kazuki Nakajima, who also failed to improve after the chequered flag, Jenson Button - four tenths adrift of Honda team-mate Rubens Barrichello - and the two Force Indias.

DC could yet be joined at the back of the grid by RBR team-mate Mark Webber who, despite making the cut, if facing a ten-place penalty for an engine change.

There was better news for the Britons at the other end of the timesheet, with Lewis Hamilton's one and only flying lap good enough for him to end the session a tenth clear of McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen. Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa completed the top five.