Giancarlo Fisichella's bid to hold on to his Renault seat for next season took an early hit at the Chinese Grand Prix after he failed to make it through the first stage of a frenetic qualifying session.

The Italian appeared to have scrambled to safety in the closing moments but, along with others, found his improvement insufficient to prevent those behind him on track from moving above him on the timesheets and pushing him back into the 'drop zone'. Rubens Barrichello and Alex Wurz both also leapt up the order with seconds to run, only to be demoted again as, notably, the two Toyotas and Fisichella's Renault team-mate Heikki Kovalainen made it to safety.

The remaining three victims of Q1 were the two Spykers, who have yet to show the pace of the last two races, and Takuma Sato's Super Aguri, all of which failed to trouble the top 16 once everyone had taken to the track.

Kimi Raikkonen wound up heading the session, maintaining his 100 per cent record for the weekend, but had had to venture out right at the start of the session to make sure that repairs to his Ferrari's hydraulics systems had been completed successfully. The Finn was exactly a tenth faster than team-mate Felipe Massa, with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top four.

Several drivers, Fisichella included, attempted two back-to-back laps on the harder Bridgestone rubber as the Shanghai track continued to lack grip.