Button's hopes of a home victory left in the balance

Championship leader struggles in qualifying as conditions go against him

So much was expected of championship leader Jenson Button on his home turf, but the Brawn driver encountered difficulties with the balance of the car as he struggled to get his tyres up to temperature in the cool conditions, and as yet he has been unable to deliver. The team made adjustments after his first run in the third and final part of qualifying, but on his last lap the balance of the car that has taken him to six wins in seven races was still not perfect, and right at the end a fast lap by Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima pushed him down to sixth place.

"Whilst qualifying in sixth is by no means a bad result, of course I'm hugely disappointed not to be starting my home grand prix from further up the grid," Button said. "We knew that we would find it difficult here as our car doesn't work so well at low temperatures and I really struggled to get the tyres into their working range. I struggled massively with understeer in the high-speed corners and then had oversteer at low speed so it wasn't the best balance for such a competitive qualifying session.

"My aim as always in the race will be to score as many points as possible and I hope that we can put on a great show for the thousands of fans who will be here to enjoy the race at this fantastic circuit."

Button has one major consolation. "I know that whatever happens tomorrow, I will still leave here in the lead of the world championship by 16 points," he said. "But I really want to win my home race."

Lewis Hamilton was more dejected, as an accident to his friend Adrian Sutil, who crashed his Force India in the Abbey curve during the first qualifying session, ruined his own chances of progressing through to the second and left him 19th on the grid. "I did the best I could today," the world champion said. "I was pushing as hard as I could but our car is too slow. I gave it my all and there wasn't really much more I could have got from it."

He refused to blame Sutil for his demise, and said he was unlikely to have improved significantly on the lap that had to be aborted as the red flag came out. "I was pushing on that final one – but it was nothing special. However, we live to fight another day and anything can happen in the race tomorrow. We'll keep pushing on and hopefully put on a good show for all the fans. The great thing is that I've had incredible support these past few days from them – they're the ones who are really helping me to get through it, so a big thank you to all of them."

Felipe Massa, the man Hamilton beat so narrowly to the title last year, was also glum, down in 11th place in a Ferrari he had hoped might be competitive enough on this fast course to erase memories of his awful time here in 2008. "Not a great weekend for us, there's no point denying it," he said. "I missed out getting into Q3 because I made a mistake in the final sector. Up until then I was a few tenths up on my previous best time."