Jenson Button’s hopes of tying up the drivers’ championship this weekend lie in tatters after a misjudgement during a chaotic qualifying session left him facing a five-place grid penalty.
Button, already due to start from seventh place, will now be the net 11th car to line up on the Suzuka grid. Rubens Barrichello, his Brawn GP team-mate and main title rival, has been demoted from fourth to ninth.
Other drivers facing similar penalties include Renault’s Fernando Alonso, Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi.
Button, Barrichello, Alonso and Sutil were penalised for failing to slow down at the end of Q2 when a yellow flag was out for a crash by Buemi.
That driver was penalised for attempting to drive his severely-damaged car back to the pits instead of allowing it to be recovered and thus killing his hopes of further running.
Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel, the only other driver mathematically in the title hunt, managed to put his Red Bull serenely on pole and is unaffected by the stewards’ decision. The same goes for third-placed Lewis Hamilton, the first KERS-equipped car in Sunday’s line-up and a sure contender for a win.
Other bystanders who won out thanks to the decision include BMW’s Nick Heidfeld, who travels from sixth to fourth, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, promoted from eighth to fifth, and his nervy team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella who qualified 16th and is now 12th.
Williams’ Nico Rosberg has also experienced the luck of the gods, after an unaccustomed poor qualifying left him 11th. He will start the race in sixth while Heidfeld’s team-mate Robert Kubica moves from 13th to seventh.
Elsewhere on the grid, McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen has a separate five-place penalty after he crashed in Q2, leaving him needing to replace his gearbox. He starts in 13th place.
Mark Webber and Timo Glock will be starting from the pitlane after crashing heavily enough to require new chassis. In Webber’s case, the crash happened in final practice, and he did not take part in the qualifying session.
In Glock’s case this could be academic since he was taken to hospital with a leg wound following the session. His Toyota team is due to take the decision on Sunday as to whether he can race. If not they will ask for permission to run third driver Kamui Kobayashi in his place.
The Japanese tester already took over from Glock in Friday practice when he was feeling unwell.
The revised Suzuka grid – including fuel weights
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 658.5kg
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 655.5kg
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 656kg
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 660kg
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 661kg
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 684.5
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 686kg
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 650kg
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: 660.5kg
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 682.5kg
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP: 658.5kg/li>
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 661.5kg
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 675kg
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 665.4kg
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 695.7kg
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 691.8kg
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 689.5kg
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 682.5kg
- Timo Glock, Toyota: N/A
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: N/A