German ace Sebastian Vettel snatched pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in a thrilling qualifying session on Saturday as he closed in on back-to-back Formula One world titles. (ALL AP IMAGES)
The Red Bull driver, who has dominated the season and needs just one point to reclaim his driver's crown, timed quickest ahead of McLaren duo Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, who will start second and third.
The 24-year-old Vettel, who crashed on Friday and trailed McLaren's Jenson Button in all three practice sessions, needs to finish just 10th or better in Japan to become the youngest Formula One driver to win back-to-back world titles.
The pole was the 27th of Vettel's career, and kept Red Bull's perfect 2011 qualifying record intact with a 15th first-place start for the team in as many races this season.
Vettel, winner of the last two races at Suzuka, scorched around the challenging Suzuka course to take his 12th pole of the season with a time of 1min 30.466secs, edging Britain's Button by just 0.009sec.
Button crossed the line an agonising nine one-thousandths of a second adrift, narrowly missing his first pole for McLaren and his first since the Monaco Grand Prix of 2009 for Brawn GP. The kiss from girlfriend Jessica Michibata may have helped ease some disappointment.
Hamilton was third after failing to complete a second final flying lap in the dying stages of qualifying.
Mercedes' Michael Schumacher was seventh ahead of Renault duo Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov, with Japan's Kamui Kobayashi 10th in his Sauber.
German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes was a shock elimination in the first 20-minute period of qualifying after failing to record a timed lap because of a hydraulics failure. It was the first time in 15 races this season that the German failed to reach the top 10.
|3||Daniel RicciardoRed Bull||Australian||212|
|5||Max VerstappenToro Rosso||Dutch||165|
|8||Sergio PerezForce India||Mexican||80|
|9||Nico HulkenbergForce India||German||54|
|2||Red Bull||Daniel Ricciardo|
|4||Force India||Sergio Perez|
|7||Toro Rosso||Max Verstappen|