Nico Rosberg sealed what could prove to be a crucial pole position ahead of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix as he beat Mercedes team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton into second.
The German put in two fast runs in the final 12-minute qualifying session to claim an eighth pole of the season as he looks to close the three-point gap Hamilton holds at the top of the championship standings.
Qualifying positions could end up being vital if the poor weather conditions, caused by the closing-in Typhoon Phanfone, hit the track as expected on race day.
Williams took third place courtesy of Valtteri Bottas, who has been the closest to the Mercedes pair for much of the weekend so far.
There was hardly anything to separate the Mercedes cars in the opening two qualifying sessions as they both pushed hard.
F1 Japanese Grand Prix
F1 Japanese Grand Prix
1/9 Friday second practice
Daniel Ricciardo's damaged Red Bull is retrieved from the barrier after a heavy off
2/9 Friday second practice
Lewis Hamilton ended Friday as the fastest man of all once again
3/9 Friday second practice
Sebastian Vettel prepares to take to the track in second practice
4/9 Friday second practice
Fernando Alonso looks far from happy during Friday practice
5/9 Friday second practice
Lewis Hamilton passes under the tunnel at Suzuka
6/9 Friday first practice
Nico Rosberg topped first practice timesheets
7/9 Friday first practice
Jenson Button drives through the final chicane as the famous Suzuka ferris wheel spins in the background
8/9 Friday first practice
Max Verstappen made his debut in the first Friday practice session
9/9 Friday first practice
Max Verstappen looks on as he copes with his F1 debut
Hamilton was quicker in Q1, albeit by just 0.060 seconds, with Rosberg setting the pace in Q2 with an even smaller gap back to his team-mate.
But Hamilton, who had crashed out late on in final practice, had no answer to his rival in the final and most telling session as Rosberg, who expressed his disappointment on missing out on pole in Singapore with a cry of 'damn it' over his team radio, was much happier this time out.
The gap between the title contenders was less than two tenths with the Mercedes locking out the top two spots for every session of the weekend.
Bottas could not push the Mercedes but will be happy to sit third, with team-mate Felipe Massa just behind in fourth.
Fernando Alonso, who looks to be moving on from Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel set to step in, took fifth and was over eight-tenths quicker than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen - who was 10th, having had a new power unit installed before qualifying began.
Vettel's departure from Red Bull was confirmed on Saturday morning and he had a poor session, only able to seal ninth place having had problems in free practice.
The sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo qualified sixth, with the McLaren pair of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button also quicker than Vettel.
Both Rosberg and Hamilton are now preparing for what looks increasingly like being a wet race, with the former of the opinion that rain could increase their margin over the chasing pack.
"I'm here to try and win and it was a great day today," said Rosberg.
"It is only one step on the way but it was a real pleasure today because the car is so amazing to drive.
"We are as prepared as we can be - we are expecting it to be wet. The last time we experienced the wet was in Spa when we were really quick, if it rains it could be even better for us."
Hamilton praised the speed shown by Rosberg and admitted he was not quite hooked up for the session.
"Nico was extremely quick today," he said.
"I did the best I could, my guys did a fantastic job to rebuild my car after I binned it. Today, I just wasn't really feeling it, I was still fast but Nico was fantastic. Tomorrow is the day you get the points and I'm looking forward to the tricky weather."
Jean-Eric Vergne, who is still without a drive for next season as things stand, was the first man outside the top 10 - with the Toro Rosso driver missing out by 0.2 seconds.
His team-mate Daniil Kvyat will be driving for Red Bull next season but the 20-year-old Russian could only reach 13th, with Sergio Perez's Force India separating the Toro Rosso duo.
Nico Hulkenberg struggled to 14th with the Saubers of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez 15th and 16th respectively.
It was a disappointing qualifying session for Lotus - who lost both cars in Q1 as Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean were pushed into the knock-out zone by two impressive late laps by the Sauber pair.
Maldonado will start at the back of the grid after being handed a 10-place grid penalty after fitting a sixth engine of the season, with his lowly qualifying performance meaning five of those penalty places will be carried over to the Russian Grand Prix next weekend.
Marcus Ericsson has looked quicker than his Caterham team-mate, as well as the Marussia cars, and he once again beat all three of his nearest competitors and will start 18th.
Jules Bianchi is the lead Marussia as he out-qualified Max Chilton, with the home favourite Kamui Kobayashi sandwiched in-between the duo in the second Caterham.
FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan
Final Positions after Qualifying:
1 Nico Rosberg(Ger) Mercedes GP 1min 32.506secs,
2 Lewis Hamilton(Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:32.703,
3 Valtteri Bottas(Fin) Williams 1:33.128,
4 Felipe Massa(Bra) Williams 1:33.527,
5 Fernando Alonso(Spa) Ferrari 1:33.740,
6 Daniel Ricciardo(Aus)Red Bull 1:34.075,
7 Kevin Magnussen(Den) McLaren 1:34.242,
8 Jenson Button(Gbr) McLaren 1:34.317,
9 Sebastian Vettel(Ger) Red Bull 1:34.432,
10 Kimi Raikkonen(Fin) Ferrari 1:34.548,
11 Jean-Eric Vergne(Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:34.984,
12 Sergio Perez(Mex) Force India 1:35.089,
13 Daniil Kvyat(Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:35.092,
14 Nico Hulkenberg(Ger) Force India 1:35.099,
15 Adrian Sutil(Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:35.364,
16 Esteban Gutierrez(Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:35.681,
17 Pastor Maldonado(Ven) Lotus F1 Team 1:35.917,
18 Romain Grosjean(Fra) Lotus F1 Team 1:35.984,
19 Marcus Ericsson(Swe) Caterham 1:36.813,
20 Jules Bianchi(Fra) Marussia 1:36.943,
21 Kamui Kobayashi(Jpn) Caterham 1:37.015,
22 Max Chilton (Gbr)Marussia 1:37.481