Robert Kubica's F1 world championship ambitions took a dent after the Pole failed to progress beyond the second phase of qualifying at the Chinese Grand Prix.
Kubica had only just escaped from Q1, but continued to struggle for pace in a BMW Sauber battling understeer and even a late lap on the softer Bridgestone tyres failed to produce the improvement he was looking for. Indeed, having sat eleventh for much of the 15-minute session, the Pole eventually wound up twelfth as Nelson Piquet Jr found a minor improvement. Kubica will, however, start from the inside of row six when Mark Webber takes his engine change penalty.
Piquet headed the list of those failing to make the cut, with Timo Glock, Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg also dropping out. Barrichello aside, the others would have harboured hopes of making it into the top ten shoot-out after promising practice times but, with performances so close, 15th placed Rosberg was only half a second shy of tenth-placed Jarno Trulli.
Lewis Hamilton again topped the times, but had to rely on his own late, soft tyre, effort to usurp title rival Felipe Massa with the best time of the weekend so far. The Brazilian had likewise benefited from the option rubber, as had Heikki Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who round out the top five.
The leading quintet will be joined in the battle for pole by Nick Heidfeld - who could yet face sanction for baulking David Coulthard in Q1 - Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Bourdais, Webber and Trulli.