Sebastian Vettel put himself in perfect position to clinch his second straight Formula One world championship by winning the pole position for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel, who needs only one point to secure the title, edged his closest points competitor, Jenson Button, by the slimmest of margins in Saturday's qualifying session at Suzuka Circuit. The Red Bull driver turned a lap around the 2.641- mile (5.807-kilometer) course in one minute, 30.466 seconds.
His time was only 0.009 seconds quicker than Button's lap (1:30.475).
Vettel claimed his 12th pole of the season and the 27th of his F1 career. The young German is just two pole wins away from tying Nigel Mansell's season- record of 14, set in 1992.
"There wasn't much between Jenson and myself," Vettel said. "It was a tough qualifying [session], but I enjoyed it a lot. It's a long lap. You start off with this mega first sector. Every time we come here is a challenge, especially in qualifying to really get it as good as you can. I had a bit of a wobble in sector one, but then I made up for it in the second sector, and we have been strong in the third sector, so, all in all, fantastic."
Vettel also kept Red Bull's pole streak alive, as the team has now won the top starting position in each of the first 15 grand prix this season.
"We were able to extract everything we had today, which was just enough," he added.
Vettel has won the last two Japanese GPs from the pole position. Button is hoping to end that streak.
"To really fight the Red Bulls around here, on a circuit they have dominated at for the past couple of years is, I think, a great job by everyone," Button said. "It is not P1, and it is not perfect, but second is still pretty good, and I think we can race well from there."
Button's McLaren teammate, Lewis Hamilton, took the third spot.
"There were a couple of corners where I lost a bit of time on my first runs," Hamilton said. "I felt I was in a position to at least fight with these guys [Vettel and Button], but it was a bit dangerous at the last corner where I had Mark [Webber] attacking me, and I had Michael [Schumacher] down the outside. It was very, very strange, and that's really where we lost the lap."
Japan's Kamui Kobayashi will start seventh in front of his home crowd. The Sauber driver did not set a time during the final qualifying stint (Q3) and was originally classified in 10th. Schumacher from Mercedes GP and the Renault duo of Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov also failed to turn in a lap during Q3.
After the F1's governing body, the FIA, released the provisional grid for the 53-lap race, Kobayashi was listed ahead of Schumacher, Senna and Petrov. The FIA credited Kobayashi with the position since he attempted a lap but subsequently aborted it during Q3. Schumacher, Senna and Petrov did not leave their garage areas during the last stint.
Schumacher's teammate, Nico Rosberg, did not post a qualifying lap due to a hydraulic problem which kept him in the garage. Rosberg will start 23rd.
The Japanese GP is scheduled to start at 2:00 a.m. (et).