Ferrari's Felipe Massa upset the form books with the quickest practice drive on Friday as Lewis Hamilton suffered yet another setback on Formula One's first ever day of action in India.
Massa conquered Buddh International Circuit's dusty new track with a time of 1min 25.706sec, beating recently crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso in an incident-packed opening day.
Hamilton was fourth in the second session but his miserable season had already taken another turn for the worse when he was hit by a three-place grid penalty for ignoring a safety flag in Friday's morning run.
The 2008 champion for McLaren, who is fifth in the overall standings and recently split from his Pussycat Dolls girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, started the day brightly when he was fastest in the first session.
But Hamilton will be unable to start from the front row in Sunday's race after his sanction for ignoring yellow flags warning him that marshalls were close to the track.
"It hasn't been the best of Fridays," Hamilton admitted. "I'm a bit frustrated at myself, it's my fault as usual so I just have to do what I can from wherever I qualify tomorrow.
"I have no one else to blame, it's only me driving. (But) it's not the end of the world and I can still recover from it."
Sauber's Mexican driver Sergio Perez received an identical penalty for ignoring flags at the same turn.
The Buddh course, named after Lord Buddha, claimed a number of victims on its opening day including Virgin's Jerome d'Ambrosio, whose right rear wheel was ripped off after he slid out and crashed into a barrier.
Williams' Pastor Maldonado was forced out of the first session when his car started pluming smoke, and his second run wound up in a gravel trap after he lost control of his rear end.
Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber was fifth fastest in the afternoon practice as he vies to snatch second spot in the overall standings from McLaren's Jenson Button, who was just behind him in sixth.
"It was looking good for us (McLaren) to qualify from pole at some stage we now have less hopes for that," Hamilton said. "But tomorrow could be a different day."
Two recent deaths in motorsports have cast a shadow over India's first Grand Prix, which is taking place at a purpose-built, $400 million facility on a barren development site near New Delhi.
India's corporate organisers of the race are under pressure to deliver a smooth event after the embarrassment of last year's poorly organised Commonwealth Games in the national capital.
Morning practice was briefly halted when a stray dog ran onto the track, among a series of minor glitches including power cuts and a bat trapped in the media centre.
Indian hope Narain Karthikeyan was last in the second practice standings for HRT after coming in seven seconds slower than Massa.