If Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso were the winners of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, then Renault were most certainly losers in Shanghai after a dismal performance that proved a far cry from their success in Japan a week earlier.

Looking to translate some of the form that yielded second and fifth place finishes at Fuji, both Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella looked in trouble from the off during the first knockout phase with both drivers needing final laps to get out of the drop zone.

However, while the Finn sneaked through with the 16th best time, Fisichella was the surprise name that failed to make the cut, the 18th place Italian admitting chronic set-up problems have left him fighting the car all weekend.

"This was a really disappointing and frustrating session," he said. "I have been struggling with the car since Friday morning, and we only started to find the right direction with the set-up on the final run in third practice this morning.

"That meant I went into qualifying quite under-prepared. After that, we ran the soft tyre for the second run, and I had some graining at the end of the lap. I made a mistake in the last corner which cost me two tenths - and that meant I didn't make it. All we can do now is wait for the conditions tomorrow, and try to take advantage."

Kovalainen meanwhile carried on to the second phase to have another attempt at a good grid position, but when he made a mistake at turn 13 and attempted to make up for it in the quick - but tricky - final corner, he instead ran wide and, with it, out the top ten.

Starting in 14th place, it contributes to Renault's worst combined starting position since the team re-entered Formula 1 in 2002.

"Clearly my final timed lap could have been better: I made a mistake by running wide in turn 13 before the long back straight, so I then had only one real opportunity to make the time back up, which was in turn 16. I tried to carry too much speed, and it went wrong: the car ran over the rumble strip, and the lap was gone.

It was touch and go whether I could have got into the top ten, but I had to be right on the limit all the way round the lap to make it, and unfortunately a little mistake cost me. The times were very close today, and I would imagine there have been some different approaches in terms of set-up, although the top speeds are all quite close so perhaps the variation is not that big.

"But the car has a pretty neutral balance, it's just that the speed wasn't there today. Now, we need to see wait and see what happens tomorrow."

 

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