GP2 Asia champion Romain Grosjean set an early benchmark time of 1:34.398 that was to remain unbeaten for the remaining 20 minutes of the half hour qualifying session, which was interrupted by three red flags.
At least Istanbul Park had dried off somewhat after the thorough soaking it had received in the morning. However, it remained uncharacteristically cold for Istanbul and grip on the track was still in short supplier, which was demonstrated by a number of spins and incidents throughout the session.
Grosjean's time was set after Jules Bianchi had gone top, and came just before Davide Valsecchi stopped out on track with an apparent gearbox problem. He rolled some distance backwards down the track before finally getting the Team AirAsia car back underway, and the first red flag of the afternoon had been thrown in the meantime.
The red flag meant that Bianchi had to abort the fast lap that he was on in response, and his moment had gone - he was unable to improve on his time for the remainder of the session. Instead he saw his position leap-frogged first by Luca Filippi in the Super Nova, and then by Sam Bird in the iSport who came just 0.085s away from Grosjean's provisional pole time.
There was a second red flag with nine minutes remaining in the session, caused by Mikhail Aleshin braking too hard down the back straight causing him to lock up and run off into the gravel trap, where he made contact with the barrier that bent the Carlin car's nose out of shape. Qualifying was suspended while Aleshin's car was recovered from the kitty litter.
Ever-cooler temperatures made faster time less and less likely, and by the time the final red flag came out no one had managed to beat Grosjean's early time - not even the Frenchman himself, whose final attempt ended up in a three-sixty spin on the track through turn 8.
The final stoppage came with just 17s on the clock, making a resumption of the session irrelevant: Michael Herck, having run off once already in the lap, then did do again down the back straight to hit the barrier in a similar accident to that of Aleshin.
Along with Grosjean and Bird on the front row, and Filippi and Bianchi on the second row, the top ten on the grid will be made up by Dani Clos, Luiz Razia, Charles Pic, Davide Valsecchi, Christian Vietoris and Josef Kral.
The 32-lap feature race will start on Saturday afternoon at 1.40pm British time, 3.40pm local time, after the circuit has seen the completion of the qualifying session for the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey.
Full results and times