Lewis Hamilton snatched pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in a rain-hit Fuji qualifying session on Saturday, denying title rival Fernando Alonso with a thrilling final lap.
England's Lewis Hamilton, seen Fuji, Japan, took pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix after winning the qualifying session in a McLaren-Mercedes on Saturday. [AFP]
The championship leader punched the air in delight and gave himself the thumbs-up after taking pole for the fourth time of his stellar rookie season.
Hamilton, who leads McLaren team-mate Alonso by two points with three races left, bagged top spot right at the end of the session by just 0.070 seconds as he defied the greasy conditions with a time of one minute 25.368 seconds.
The Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will line up on the second row of the grid after being outgunned by their rivals in a qualifying session that looked at one stage as though it would have to be postponed after practice earlier had been abandoned because of fog.
Hamilton, 22, said: "I'm feeling relaxed and with the way this weekend has gone I am even more relaxed.
"I know I have got two guys breathing down my neck but I am not bothered. But it is going to be a very close, tough race and the key will be getting to the first corner first.
"I knew it was my last chance at pole and I was delighted when I got it. That's why I punched the air.
"We had not had much practice in the wet conditions and it was difficult to see the pit boards and know where you were. But it was good fun out there and I am sure if the conditions are changing during the race it will be exciting."
Double world champion Alonso said: "I really enjoyed driving here at Fuji for the first time. I liked those conditions. I think for everybody it was quite an exciting qualifying because of the fog this morning.
"It would have been better to be on pole but I am on the front row, which is important. It is very close between the top four drivers."
Raikkonen, 13 points behind Hamilton and needing to win Sunday's race to keep his title hopes alive, finished just a tenth of a second back.
The Finn said: "I had a small problem with the gearbox but hopefully that will be fixed for tomorrow. It was a sensor problem which cost us some time.
"But the car felt pretty OK in the last session and I was happy. I think I am in a good position for the race."