World championship leader Lewis Hamilton secured pole position on Saturday for the Japanese Grand Prix with a dazzling last-gasp lap in qualifying, leaving rival Felipe Massa in fifth.
The 23-year-old Englishman in his McLaren Mercedes car was lightening quick in the final seconds with a best lap that gives him a perfect opportunity to build on his seven points lead over Massa with three races remaining.
He will share the front row of the grid with Finland's defending champion Kimi Rakkkonen of Ferrari with his McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, another Finn, behind him in third.
Two times world champion Fernando Alonso of Spain was fourth for Renault ahead of Brazilian Massa, in the second Ferrari.
Poland's Robert Kubica was sixth for BMW Sauber ahead of Italian Jarno Trulli in a Toyota, his team-mate German Timo Glock, German Sebastian Vettel and his Toro Rosso team-mate Sebastien Bourdais of France.
The final part of 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 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 -- Greman 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, who finished second for Williams in Singapore, his team-mate Kazuki Nakajima of Japan, Australian Mark Webber and his Red Bull team-mate Briton David Coulthard, along with Brazilian Nelson Piquet of Renault.