SHANGHAI, China - Lewis Hamilton, with a chance to clinch the drivers' championship in his rookie season, took pole position Saturday for the Chinese Grand Prix, with title rival and McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso qualifying fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen, who led all three practice sessions before qualifying was second with his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa third.
"We are in the best position to start the race," the 22-year-old Hamilton said. " I feel very optimistic about it. We have a good car I know the team will do a great job.
"I approach tomorrow the same as every race. I want to win., I want to do a good job for the team and if I do that it might be a good day for us.
Hamilton had a time of 1 minute, 35.908 seconds on the 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) Shanghai International circuit, and barely six tenths of a second separated the top four. Raikkonen did a 1:36.044, with Massa at 1:36.221. Two-time defending champion Alonso was fourth at 1:36.576 ahead of Sunday's 56-lap race.
It will be the sixth time Hamilton has started from pole - in Hungary he did so after Alonso won pole in qualifying but was demoted as punishment for hampering Hamilton in a pitstop. In four of his previous five pole starts, Hamilton won the race, with the only blemish being in the British GP when he ran third.
Hamilton performed strongly Saturday despite enduring a stewards investigation Friday about his driving in last weekend's Japanese GP. He was cleared of wrongdoing.
"This weekend has been bit of a rollercoaster and quite emotional trip," Hamilton said. "I got here on Thursday and found out they were to investigate me for the way I was behaving behind the safety car. I thought immediately I would get a penalty."
"Thankfully with team support we pulled through it," he said. "A good decision by the FIA."
Hamilton turned around his performance from practice, when Alonso looked the quicker of the two McLarens.
"I kept chipping away at it and I am absolutely thrilled to get the pole psoition, because going into qualifying I didn't have the pace of Fernando."
Hamilton heads into this weekend's race with 107 points, a 12-point lead over Alonso. Hamilton will become the first rookie to clinch the title if he finishes ahead of Alonso on Sunday, or maintains at least an 11-point margin with only the Brazilian Grand Prix to go.
However, thunderstorms are predicted over the weekend. If it stays on its current path, the eye of the storm was expected to strike land about 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Shanghai late Sunday, bringing strong winds and heavy rain.
"I am not bothered by whether it would be wet or drying," Hamilton said. "With the experience in Fuji, gives me a lot of confidence in the wet."
The approaching weather influenced qualifying, as some cars carried set-ups for rain while others had dry settings, with differences in springs and brake cooling.