Championship leader Lewis Hamilton will start the Japanese Grand Prix from an ideal position with pole at the Fuji Speedway.
His main title contender Felipe Massa slipped down to fifth in the closing moments of qualifying after Renault’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen set quicker laps.
With Hamilton out front (his sixth pole position this season), the McLaren driver will have the advantage of extending his points lead as the championship reaches its dramatic conclusion.
His lap time around the Fuji Speedway was an impressive one minute, 18.404 seconds – which was two tenths faster than the reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonen (one minute, 18.644 seconds).
The Finn seemed to be in a more competitive mood after recent struggles in qualifying and by starting in second place (his best since the French Grand Prix way back in June, where Kimi was on the front row), the Ferrari driver will have a good opportunity of challenging Lewis for race victory.
His Scuderia team-mate Felipe Massa will have a difficult afternoon on race day following his disappointing fifth position (his time was one minute, 18.874 seconds). The Brazilian was unable to make the most of his Bridgestone in the final qualifying runs during Q3 and will be hoping he has the pace to fight during the 67-lap Grand Prix.
Between the two red cars are Renault’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen. The pair recorded their best times in the final moments of Q3 with one minute 18.852 seconds and one minute, 18.821 seconds respectively.
Singapore Grand Prix winner Alonso was quite pleased by his qualifying result and a top-five finish is on the cards for Sunday. For Heikki, playing the team role of supporting Lewis Hamilton in his title bid, this third place grid start is perfect for the Finn to help his team-mate and extend McLaren’s lead in the constructors’ championship.
Robert Kubica will start the Japanese Grand Prix in sixth while his BMW Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld finished way down the order with a frustrating 16th. This was Nick’s worst qualifying result this season and it didn’t help that neither BMW show any competitive pace.
Toyota locked out the fourth row at their home circuit, with Timo Glock only eighth behind his team-mate Jarno Trulli despite going fastest of all in Q1.
The Toro Rossos completed the top ten, with Italian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel beating team-mate Sebastien Bourdais to ninth by half a second.
Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix promising to be a thriller and with Lewis Hamilton out in front and main title rival Felipe Massa down four places, the McLaren driver will have the advantage in extending his championship lead. Only Kimi Raikkonen, the out-going world champion, can prevent Lewis on winning and the Finn will need to dig deep in order to win his first race since the Spanish Grand Prix back in April.
Qualifying times for the Japanese Grand Prix:
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:18.404
2. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:18.644
3. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1:18.821
4. Alonso Renault 1:18.852
5. Massa Ferrari 1:18.874
6. Kubica BMW Sauber 1:18.979
7. Trulli Toyota 1:19.026
8. Glock Toyota 1:19.118
9. Vettel Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:19.638
10. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.167
11. Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1:18.187
12. Piquet Renault 1:18.274
13. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:18.354
14. Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:18.594
15. Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:18.672
16. Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:18.835
17. Barrichello Honda 1:18.882
18. Button Honda 1:19.100
19. Sutil Force India-Ferrari 1:19.163
20. Fisichella Force India-Ferrari 1:19.910