Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel stormed ever closer to his fourth straight world title Saturday as he pulled out a brilliant drive to snatch pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix.
The young German set the evening's two fastest times with peerless motoring at the spot-lit Marina Bay street circuit to edge out Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.
Vettel, who also dominated free practice on Friday, drove so fast he could afford to sit out the last minutes of qualifying -- but there were some nervy moments as his time came under threat.
And the bleach-blond 26-year-old punched the air in obvious relief as team-mate Mark Webber just failed to overhaul his lightning 1min 42.841sec in the session's dying moments.
"It's a great feeling because it could go wrong, but I'm very happy with the result," said Vettel of his risky move to garage early.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean will start third, ahead of Webber, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes -- who is still technically capable of winning the title -- and Felipe Massa.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, second in the overall standings behind Vettel, could only manage seventh fastest ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez.
But the evening belonged, once again, to Vettel, who is now the red-hot favourite to claim his third win in a row in Singapore and his fourth victory in the past five races.
"It's one of the toughest races we face all year, I would say the toughest physically and mentally. It's so long and there's so many corners, there's hardly any room for mistakes," he said.
"Pole is the best position to start from. I'm very happy with that as it's tricky to pass on this track. But because it's such a long race I think there's plenty of opportunities for all of us."
Hamilton topped the standings in a swiftly shifting first qualifying period, in which Ferrari's Massa just escaped the drop with an improved late lap.
Rosberg was leading Q2 from his team-mate Hamilton with a super-fast 1:43.892 -- until Vettel started his flying lap.
The German, bouncing over kerbs and speeding just inches (centimetres) from the track walls, obliterated Rosberg's time by nearly a second as he screamed round in 1:42.905.
Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton led the cars into the Q3 shoot-out, with Nico Hulkenberg, Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren's Sergio Perez outside the top 10.
Raikkonen later revealed he was suffering from a flare-up of a long-standing back problem, but he vowed to be on the grid come Sunday.
"It's not the first time I've driven with a problem and it probably won't be the last time either, but I'll be on the grid tomorrow," he said.
It was no surprise that Vettel stayed fastest in Q3, but he did it in astounding style, lowering his previous time and earning enough breathing space to garage early.
He has a 53-point lead in the standings and victory on Sunday will put him closer to matching Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio by winning four championships in a row.
Rosberg, just 0.1sec off Vettel's time, said he was "so close to beating Sebastian" while his team-mate Hamilton, third in the championship table, was left frustrated by his fifth place.
"It's frustrating not to have qualified closer to the front as Nico did," Hamilton said. "So not a good day for me but that's life."
And Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn wished his two drivers had been able to make Vettel pay for his unaccustomed gamble.
"It was a brave move from Sebastian and Red Bull to sit out the final run, and it just paid off for them, but it would have been nice to have given them cause to regret it," he said.