Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix Saturday at the head of this year's first all-Red Bull front row, as his late charge for a Formula One world title hat-trick gathered pace.
The double defending world champion, who won last month in Singapore to rise to second in the standings, claimed his fourth pole in a row at Suzuka with a supreme level of speed and a lightning fastest lap of 1min 30.839secs.
The German timed two-tenths quicker than team-mate Mark Webber as Red Bull locked out the front two spots, highlighting a surge in form by the team that has claimed the last two drivers and constructors titles.
But Red Bull's rivals McLaren were left licking their wounds after Jenson Button, who timed third quickest, was hit with a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, and departing ace Lewis Hamilton came in a lowly ninth.
Vettel even caught a break when he escaped with a reprimand, rather than being given a grid penalty, for blocking Ferrari's championship leader Fernando Alonso during the final seconds of qualifying.
Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix at the head of an all-Red Bull front row, as his late charge for a Formula One world title hat-trick gathered pace.
The German's fourth pole of the season and the 34th of his career gives him a great opportunity to close the 29-point gap on Ferrari's Alonso in Sunday's race.
"I'm very, very happy with today's result," said Vettel. "We had a very good qualifying session and it was very smooth, almost perfect. We didn't have the best start yesterday but we seem to get better every time we go out.
"The car feels fantastic so all in all it came together nicely and we hope for a good race tomorrow. It's nice to see the support we get at Suzuka and it's great to come here and drive the circuit the way that I did."
Home hero Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber put in a stunning late lap to finish fourth fastest, meaning he moves up to third after Button's penalty, followed by Romain Grosjean in the leading Lotus.
McLaren-bound Mexican Sergio Perez will start from fifth in the second Sauber ahead of championship leader Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen in the second Lotus, Button and Hamilton, who said a set-up error had left him with steering problems.
Vettel might have clocked an even faster time in the closing minutes, but was slowed when Raikkonen spun his car at the Spoon curve and yellow flags were waved.
Webber said: "It has been a good weekend for us so far. Seb and I had a clean run in Q3 at the start. They were two big laps from both of us. Seb got me, it was a good lap for him.
Red Bull driver Mark Webber stands in the pit during the third practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Sebastian Vettel has stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix at the head of this year's first all-Red Bull front row, as his late charge for a Formula One world title hat-trick gathered pace.
"To be this much higher up (the grid) after a rough run of late, I'm happy to be on the front row. For the team, it's a great tonic for them at this point of the championship."
And Button admitted the McLarens may have trouble catching the Red Bulls in Sunday's race.
"It's always great driving around here and it was a lot of fun, but we just aren't quick enough and I'm not sure what we can do about that," said the Briton.
Hamilton, who has made waves by announcing he would join Mercedes next season, also said he may find it tough on Sunday.
"With the pace that I have, who knows what will happen in the race," said Hamilton. "Long-run pace wasn't bad yesterday but the car... I'm going to struggle with it tomorrow."
The McLarens were unable to mount any serious challenge to the Red Bulls on a day when the champion team were untouchable. "I couldn't find any more (speed) guys, they were just too quick," said Button, on his team radio.
Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso during the qualifying session of the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit. Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix Saturday at the head of this year's first all-Red Bull front row, as his late charge for a Formula One world title hat-trick gathered pace.
Meanwhile Alonso was left cursing his luck after Raikkonen's spin left him unable to set a flying final lap.
"What can I say, other than get angry about being unlucky? The yellow flags came at the worst possible moment, when I was coming into turn 14," said Alonso, who was not available for comment after the stewards' inquiry.