Mark Webber ended his Red Bull Racing’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying supremacy by beating the champion-elect to pole position at Suzuka.
Vettel was handicap with a loss of KERS on his first Q3 run and was four tenths of a second adrift from his Australian’s provisional pole.
His KERS was restarted but his second run was not enough good enough to beat Webber, who then improved his pole position time to one minute, 30.915 seconds.
This result meant not only was this is his first pole of the season, he also out-qualified Vettel.
Lewis Hamilton will start the Japanese Grand Prix in third, winning the tight qualifying battle from Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa.
As for his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, he was 0.144 seconds slower and will line up sixth on the grid.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was only eighth quickest, three tenths of a second off Massa and pushed back a further position by a flying Nico Hulkenberg in the Sauber.
Alonso will face an uphill battle if his championship rival wins the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday so getting a good start will be key to his race.
Yet again, Kimi Raikkonen struggled for qualifying speed in the Lotus, lapping 0.319s slower than Grosjean as he ended up five positions adrift.
While McLaren’s Jenson Button rounded off the top ten at Suzuka.
The Q2 session was extraordinarily close, with barely half a second covering P2 to P14.
Sergio Perez ended up on the wrong end of the cut-off in eleventh and yet ahead of Paul di Resta.
The Force India driver had a much better qualifying session than his team-mate Adrian Sutil, who picked up a gearbox-change penalty following his FP3 crash and then struggled for speed. P17 was the end result.
The main action in Q1 was a bizarre fire on both the rear brakes of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. The Frenchman had to park on the exit of the hairpin and the session was briefly red-flagged so that the track marshals could deal with the fire safely.
That left Vergne in P18, while his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo could only managed two places higher as he trailed the Q2 pack.
Those dramas helped Williams to an encouraging P13 and P15, Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado respectively.
They were split by Esteban Gutierrez, whose Sauber caught fire in the pit garage halfway through Q1. There was no damage and he was able to continue qualifying.
Marussia’s Max Chilton produced the best qualifying performance of his Formula 1 career so far to beat the Caterhams and his team-mate Jules Bianchi to P19.
Both Charles Pic and Bianchi will serve a ten-place grid penalties following incidents in last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix. The pair will share the back row.
So a fantastic lap by Mark Webber. His twelfth in Formula 1 and crucially ahead of his Red Bull Racing team-mate. Can Sebastian Vettel win the title on race day? He needs to overtake the pole sitter and hope that Fernando Alonso finishes outside the top eight. It’s going to be a fascinating Japanese Grand Prix.
Qualifying positions at Suzuka:
1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m30.915s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m31.089s
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.253s
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m31.365s
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.378s
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m31.397s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.644s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.665s
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m31.684s
10. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.827s
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.989s
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m31.992s
13. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m32.013s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m32.063s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m32.093s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m32.485s
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.357s
18. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m34.320s
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m34.879s
20. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m34.556s*
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m34.958s*
22. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m32.890s**
107 per cent time: 1m38.251s
*Ten-place penalty for incurring three reprimands during the season
**Five-place penalty for gearbox change