SUZUKA, Japan - Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, putting himself in the perfect place to claim the Formula One championship in Sunday's race.
Vettel extended Red Bull's perfect streak of poles to all 15 races this season, setting a lap of 1 minute, 30.466 seconds at the Suzuka circuit, edging McLaren's Jenson Button by just nine-thousandths of a second. Button's McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton was third fastest despite a mistake which meant he did not set a time in his final run.
"It was a great qualifying for us," Vettel said. "I went off the track yesterday and damaged the wing and that affected us but we were able to get everything out of the car today."
Vettel ran off the track at the end of the first practice session on Friday, damaging the front of his car slightly. He later called the incident a "wake-up call."
Vettel needs only one point in Sunday's race — or Button to fail to win — to become the sport's youngest two-title winner.
It was the 12th pole of the season for the 24-year-old German who has won the last two races here from pole.
"There wasn't much between me and Jenson," Vettel said. "I want to say thanks to the team and the factory for getting another front wing out for me."
Felipe Massa will start from fourth after the rare feat of outqualifying his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who was fifth.
Button was fastest in all three practice sessions and was disappointed not to get his first pole of the year.
"You're always a bit disappointed when you are that close," Button said. "But the weekend has gone pretty good so far and we showed up here with a good package."
Even though he is almost assured of winning the championship on Sunday, Vettel wasn't looking beyond the race.
"Whatever you think we will or will not do tomorrow, we still need to go out and focus on having a good race," Vettel said.
Vettel's Red Bull teammate Mark Webber qualified sixth. Webber, Mercedes' Michael Schumacher plus Hamilton, were caught in a tangle on the final corner as they tried to make it to the start line in time to begin their final flying lap.
Only Webber made it, adding to the woes of Hamilton, who has had to deal with numerous mistakes and misfortunes this season.
"I felt I was in position to fight with these guys (Vettel and Button) but it was quite dangerous at the last corner, to have Mark on one side and Michael on the other, and that's why I lost out," Hamilton said.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said Hamilton was in a tough position.
"With Lewis it was tight, we told him not to back up and let so many cars by," Whitmarsh said. "Unfortunately he got hussled by at the last corner and in so doing missed out on posting a time in the last lap."
Hamilton had harsh words for Schumacher's pass.
"Michael was also on the outside," Hamilton said. "I don't know what the hell he was trying to do but he went off on the grass. It was one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in qualifying."
Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi will start from seventh after race officials released the provisional grid. Kobayashi, along with Schumacher, Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov, didn't set a time during the third qualifying session. The Japanese driver was originally classified 10th but was moved up to seventh because he was the only driver among the four to start a flying lap.
As a result of Kobayashi being moved up to seventh, Schumacher was moved from seventh to eighth on the grid while the Renault pair of Senna and Petrov will start from ninth and 10th respectively.
Only six of the top 10 cars set a timed lap in the final part of qualifying, adding to pressure on F1 to overhaul the qualifying structure.
Schumacher's Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was not able to run at all in qualifying after a hydraulic issue kept his car in the garage. He will start from 23rd.