He may have been a former pole winner in the Principality, and his brother a multiple winner of the Monaco Grand Prix, but none of that was enough to keep Ralf Schumacher involved in qualifying beyond the opening session.

The German yo-yo'd in and out of the drop zone throughout the 15-minute opening segment, but his final flying effort wasn't good enough to lift him from the 20th spot that a typically frenetic session had left him in.

With rain having blighted the morning practice session, and threatened to return in the moments before qualifying started, there was action from the start, with a succession of drivers setting fastest times mirrored by those circulating in and around the bottom six. In the end, Schumacher was the biggest casualty, but was joined in missing the cut by Anthony Davidson, Scott Speed, morning pacesetter Adrian Sutil, Takuma Sato and Christijan Albers.

While Albers had the excuse of not being able to complete a flying lap by hydraulic problems on the Spyker, team-mate Sutil and Speed - who had topped the times early on - both came up short on their final efforts. Speed's woe was compounded by Toro Rosso team-mate Tonio Liuzzi setting the fourth fastest time of the session. Optimism at Super Aguri, meanwhile, was dashed as both Davidson and Sato appeared to escape the axe, only to be pushed back in as the merry-go-round spun again in the final moments.

At the sharp end, the two Mclaren drivers indulged in a game of one-upmanship, eventually won by Lewis Hamilton, who lapped nearly four-tenths faster than world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso. Kimi Raikkonen claimed third spot, ahead of Liuzzi and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa.

Nico Rosberg, David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button all took top ten times after topping the charts at some point in the session, while Nick Heidfeld completed the leading group.