Shanghai:Lewis Hamilton, with a chance to clinch the drivers' championship in his rookie season, took pole position on Saturday for the Chinese Grand Prix, with title rival and McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso qualifying fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen, who led all three practice sessions before qualifying was second with his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa third.
"We are in the best position to start the race," the 22-year-old Hamilton said. " I feel very optimistic about it. We have a good car I know the team will do a great job.
"I approach tomorrow the same as every race. I want to win, I want to do a good job for the team and if I do that it might be a good day for us. "Fingers crossed."
Hamilton had a time of 1 minute, 35.908 seconds on the 5.5-km Shanghai International circuit, and barely six tenths of a second separated the top four. Raikkonen did a :36.044, with Massa at 1:36.221.
Two-time defending champion Alonso was fourth at 1:36.576 ahead of Sunday's 56-lap race.
It will be the sixth time Hamilton has started from pole - in Hungary he did so after Alonso won pole in qualifying but was demoted as punishment for hampering Hamilton in a pitstop.
In four of his previous five pole starts, Hamilton won the race, with the only blemish being in the British GP when he ran third.
Hamilton performed strongly on Saturday despite enduring a stewards investigation on Friday about his driving in last weekend's Japanese GP. He was cleared of wrongdoing.
"This weekend has been bit of a rollercoaster and quite emotional trip," Hamilton said. "I got here on Thursday and found out they were to investigate me for the way I was behaving behind the safety car. I thought immediately I would get a penalty."
"Thankfully with team support we pulled through it," he said. "A good decision by the FIA."
Hamilton turned around his performance from practice, when Alonso looked the quicker of the two McLarens.
"I kept chipping away at it and I am absolutely thrilled to get the pole position, because going into qualifying I didn't have the pace of Fernando," he said.
Hamilton heads into this weekend's race with 107 points, a 12-point lead over Alonso. Hamilton will become the first rookie to clinch the title if he finishes ahead of Alonso on Sunday, or maintains at least an 11-point margin with only the Brazilian Grand Prix to go.
Alonso was surprised he did not finish closer to Hamilton, saying his laps were faultless.
"When I crossed the line with the first set of tires, I was very, very happy with the lap and I asked what are the positions at the moment. They told me fourth and I was surprised," Alonso said.
"Then we put on the soft tires . I improved another two tenths and the lap was extremely good again and the car balance was very good.
" I expected to be fighting for the pole or a very good position and then I realized I was still in fourth and even a bigger gap to pole position."
The good news for Hamilton's pursuers is that weather, rather than grid positions, may be the key to Sunday's race.
Thunderstorms are predicted over the weekend, with a typhoon forecast to hit Taiwan late on Saturday.
If it stays on its current path, the eye of the storm was expected to strike land about 300 km south of Shanghai late on Sunday, bringing strong winds and heavy rain.
"I am not bothered by whether it would be wet or drying," Hamilton said. "With the experience in Fuji, gives me a lot of confidence in the wet."
The approaching weather influenced qualifying, as some cars carried set-ups for rain while others had dry settings, with differences in springs and brake cooling.
David Coulthard of Red Bull took fifth to be the best of the rest, ahead of Toyota's Ralf Schumacher, Red Bull's Mark Webber and the BMW pair Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica.
Ferrari and McLaren have won all 15 races so far with Alonso, Hamilton and Raikkonen each notching four victories.
Ferrari has won two of the previous three races here and the red cars could be the downfall of Alonso.
If Raikkonen and Massa were to finish first and second for Ferrari - and if Alonso and Hamilton follow third and fourth - there would be still be an unassailable 11-point gap Hamilton and Alonso after the race.
Raikkonen, with a slight chance to win the title, is third in the standings with 90 points while Massa has 80.
Late Friday Hamilton was cleared by the International Automobile Federation (FIA) after a hearing and review of an incident in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton was accused of accelerating and decelerating behind the safety car during a caution period on the 46th lap, spraying water from a wet track and causing Webber and Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel to collide.
Vettel was originally given a 10-place starting grid penalty for this race for running into the back of Webber's car, but that was reduced because the stewards felt that conditions were "exceptionally bad."