Fuji Speedway:A delighted Lewis Hamilton grabbed his sixth pole position of the season on Saturday to boost his hopes of winning the Japanese Grand Prix and taking the world title.
The McLaren driver, who leads Felipe Massa of Ferrari by seven points with three races remaining, took pole with a dazzling last-gasp lap in a tense qualifying session while the Brazilian fell away and ended fifth.
"It was just perfect for me," said Hamilton.
"I felt we did a good qualifying session with no major problems and in Q3 I managed to get all my sectors together and bring it home.
"I have to say that the team have done a terrific job. We have had such a consistent, fast and reliable car for the last two years and that is down to them," added the Briton.
Massa, who lost grip and performance in the third qualifying session after two strong earlier performaces, was disappointed, but not downhearted.
"The car was great to start with but in Q3 I just did not have the grip," he said.
"It may have been down to the fuel load, but we shall have to see. It won't be easy in the race, but we will do our best."
Hamilton, the 23-year-old who has taken the sport by storm in the last two seasons, now has a perfect opportunity on Sunday to build on his seven points lead in his quest to become Formula One's youngest champion.
He will share the front row of the grid with Finland's defending champion Kimi Rakkkonen of Ferrari while his McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, another Finn, is behind them in third.
"It was a great final effort by both drivers and important to have them both ahead of Massa," said McLaren team chief Ron Dennis.
Asked if he would allow Hamilton 'off the leash' to race for victory without taking a cautious strategic approach for the championship, Dennis grinned and said: "We don't want to pass over any victories that might come our way, but who knows?"
Spain's two-times world champion Fernando Alonso, who won in Singapore two weeks ago, was fourth for Renault ahead of Massa.
Poland's Robert Kubica was sixth for BMW Sauber ahead of Italian Jarno Trulli in a Toyota, his team-mate Timo Glock of Germany, fellow German Sebastian Vettel and his Toro Rosso team-mate Sebastien Bourdais of France.
The final part of the session, Q3, saw the Ferraris take command with Raikkonen producing a fast lap in 1:18.890 after appearing to be languishing among the chasing pack.
Massa was second behind him and Hamilton a fraction adrift in third in a closely-fought battle with Kovalainen for fourth before Hamilton pitted in readiness for his bid for pole.
Raikkonen clocked an improved 1:18.644 but Hamilton blitzed through in 1:18.404 to take the prime starting spot.
The opening part of qualifying was run on a drying circuit and the times improved steadily as Hamilton set the pace.
In the end, however, it was the talented Glock who raised a smile for hosts Toyota with the fastest lap.
The session saw the elimination of the bottom five runners -- German Nick Heidfeld in his BMW Sauber, the two Hondas of Briton Jenson Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello and both Force India men, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella and German Adrian Sutil.
In Q2, it was much the same story with Hamilton out quickly and then this time outpaced by a determined Massa while the drop zone was the scene of a final scramble for top 10 survival.
In the end, the dropouts were German Nico Rosberg, his teammate Kazuki Nakajima of Japan, Australian Mark Webber and his Red Bull teammate David Coulthard of Britain, and Brazilian Nelson Piquet of Renault.