Heikki Kovalainen and the Caterham F1 team may have been happy to dump Michael Schumacher out of qualifying at the first hurdle in Bahrain, but insist that they believed they always had a chance of making it through to the second stage.

An ever-evolving Bahrain International Circuit ensured that each of the three phases of qualifying kept the outcome uncertain until the last car had crossed the line, and Kovalainen was just that car as Q1 came to a close. The Finn needed to find nearly two seconds to break out of the 'drop zone' for the first time in 2012, but had some big names to aim for as Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso sat just above him on the timesheet, having opted to rely on earlier laps.

Having fitted the softer Pirelli tyres for his final shot at making the cut, Kovalainen was perfectly equipped to make the most of the improving track surface, which was gaining heat with every passing minute, and eventually produced a time good enough to beat Schumacher's mark by 0.013secs as he completed his lap after the chequered flag.

"That was an excellent qualifying session for our team," Kovalainen enthused, "It's a real bonus for us getting into Q2, but we'd already seen this morning that we were close to a few cars and we thought that, with the conditions today being hot and pretty windy, we might be able to use the option tyres to get us into Q2, and it worked out.

"Overall, I'm delighted for the team. We've worked really hard to put ourselves in a position where we can fight and today we showed that we are close enough to record results like we did. We made progress over the winter and, even though we haven't really shown it yet this season, today's the sort of result we knew we could put in."

Despite progressing to the second phase of the session, both team and driver knew that they were unlikely to cause too many more surprises, and opted for a single run that eventually netted 16th spot after Williams' Pastor Maldonado failed to venture out.

"We saved a set of tyres for tomorrow as we were pretty sure we wouldn't be able to get too much higher," Kovalainen explained, "With the degradation rates we've seen yesterday and today, it's clear tyre management is going to play a big role tomorrow."

Team-mate Vitaly Petrov had to settle for 20th on the grid - although that should become 18th after penalties for both Schumacher and Maldonado - after problems with the floor of his car in FP3 which meant he wasn't able to find a balance on the soft tyres for qualifying, but technical director Mark Smith expected both drivers to be strong on raceday.

"We had a very good FP3 and the work we had done overnight paid off with Heikki's result," he said, "Everything on his car worked as we had planned and this is a clear sign that the whole team is making progress. Vitaly had a strong run on the first set of medium tyres, but he just was not able to get the most out of the soft tyres on his second run. But he has already shown how strong he is on Sundays, so we have good reason to be positive about his prospects here as well.

"We know we have a good package for the race tomorrow, so we'll look forward to what will definitely be an exciting Grand Prix and aim to maintain the sort of pace we have already shown in the first three races this season."

Caterham's expected opposition, Marussia and HRT, was unable to replicate the Hingham's team's 'success' in qualifying, although there were landmarks for Charles Pic and Pedro de la Rosa, who both took advantage of problems for Timo Glock to post the 21st and 22nd best times. The German admitted to 'a massive mistake' at turn 13 on his first flying lap and, reluctant to use all of his soft tyres before the race, was then hampered by a fuel pick-up problem that also dropped him behind the HRT.

Changes made during the break between sessions appeared to pay dividends for French rookie Pic, who is already well-acquainted with the track from his GP2 days.

"Not an easy day today, but I am quite happy with the result," Pic noted, "This afternoon, it was much hotter as forecast and the tyre degradation was maybe a little worse with the rears. We seem to have managed this quite well though and, generally, the team has done a good job through the day to keep pushing forward. The race will be tough as we will struggle with the tyres for sure, but we were quite conservative with them today so that we can improve our chances for tomorrow."

de la Rosa, meanwhile, produced HRT's best qualifying result of the season.

"I'm very happy to be honest," the Spanish veteran admitted, "We come from not qualifying in Australia not long ago, so when I saw the times we posted I was glad. For us, it's an important jump and, sincerely, at such a complicated track for us as this one, we didn't expect to finish ahead of one Marussia, so that's satisfying.

"Tyre degradation is high and, tomorrow, I will have to find the compromise in the first part of the sector in order to have enough rubber for the last one to maintain some grip. We know that the race will be a three-stop or four-stop one and that we're going to struggle, but so will everyone else so we have to go for it and do the best we can."