Giancarlo Fisichella fell precisely 1.067 seconds shy of making the cut for the second qualifying session and both the Italian as well as his Force India team mate Adrian Sutil will now start from the back of the grid in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.
Fisichella will start 17th in this year's season opener, while his younger German colleague Sutil will be 19th on the grid -- with the team's hopes of securing a point now depending more on extraordinary circumstances than performance.
At the top, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton won pole position after warding off a strong challenge from BMW's Robert Kubica, who briefly took the lead before the Briton outpaced him in the third and final qualifying session.
Fisichella had reason to be frustrated after he failed to reproduce the form that saw him hovering around the top 10 in the three practice sessions.
Ironically, just when it mattered most, the Roman clocked 1:26.140 to finish 17th among 22 drivers and hurtle to the back of the grid.
Though he was running fever since Friday, which meant he was not in the best of shape, the Italian was on the cusp of achieving the team's target of making it to the second qualifying round.
Also falling by the wayside was Sutil, who spun out on the 12th turn before timing 1:27.859 to be 19th.
World champion Kimi Raikkonen clocked an impressive 1:26.140 in the first qualifying session before a fuel pressure regulator problem did not allow him to come out for the second qualifying. He will start 16th.
Finishing 12th, ninth and ninth again in three practice sessions spread over two days, Fisichella looked impressive behind the wheels of the Ferrari-powered VJM 01. But when he needed it most, things did not fall in place and the same 5.3 km Albert Park circuit, where he won the 2005 Grand Prix as a Renault driver, returned him empty-handed.
"Considering the weekend we had, finishing just outside top 16 and missing the second qualifying by a whisker is a little disappointing," a drained Fisichella later said.
"In the last part of my quickest lap, there was a yellow flag. And there was lot of graining on the tyres and I lost at least three-tenths," rued the veteran driver, who is into his 13th F1 season.
Force India's chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne felt the yellow flag denied Fisichella a place in the second qualifying.
"Unfortunately, in his final lap, Adrian lost his car and that yellow flag meant Giancarlo had to back off. That delay was enough to deny us a place in Q2," he lamented.
Sutil, too, admitted he was not at his best.
"The track was dirty and I had problem with the soft tyres, which affected the car's balance and slowed me down. Besides, there was lot of understeer, which resulted in the spin," he said.
Fisichella admitted scoring a point in the season-opening race would require extraordinary circumstances.
"The dream is to win a point tomorrow, but the idea should be to get through to the end," he said.
Despite not making the second qualifying, Sutil took heart from the show and said "we were very close to second qualifying and may be we will take that step in Malaysia. We started better than last year and that's a little success already."
Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 1:26.572 1:25.187 1:26.714
2 Robert Kubica (BMW) 1:26.103 1:25.315 1:26.869
3 Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) 1:25.664 1:25.452 1:27.079
4 Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:25.994 1:25.691 1:27.178
5 Nick Heidfeld (BMW) 1:25.960 1:25.518 1:27.236
6 Jarno Trulli (Toyota) 1:26.427 1:26.101 1:28.527
7 Nico Rosberg (Williams) 1:26.295 1:26.059 1:28.687
8 David Coulthard (Red Bull) 1:26.381 1:26.063 1:29.041
9 Timo Glock (Toyota) 1:26.919 1:26.164 1:29.593
10 Sebastian Vettel (STR) 1:26.702 1:25.842
11 Rubens Barrichello (Honda) 1:26.369 1:26.173
12 Fernando Alonso (Renault) 1:26.907 1:26.188
13 Jenson Button (Honda) 1:26.712 1:26.259
14 Kazuki Nakajima (Williams) 1:26.891 1:26.413
15 Mark Webber (Red Bull) 1:26.914
16 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:26.140
17 G Fisichella (Force India) 1:27.207
18 Sebastian Bourdais (STR) 1:27.446
19 Adrian Sutil (Force India) 1:27.859
20 Takuma Sato (Super Aguri) 1:28.208
21 Nelson Piquet (Renault) 1:28.330
22 A Davidson (Super Aguri) 1:29.059.