Sebastian Vettel put himself on pole position for a second successive Formula One title this morning after Red Bull won a race against time to get his car up to speed at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old, who needs just a point tomorrow to become the sport's youngest double champion with four races to spare, pipped McLaren's Jenson Button by just nine thousandths of a second in a knife-edge qualifying session.
The pole on a sunny afternoon at Suzuka was Vettel's 12th from 15 races this season, and fifth in succession, and Red Bull's 16th in a row dating back to the end of last year.
"We got a new front wing out just in time, it wasn't easy but fortunately we did," said the German, who crashed in yesterday's opening practice and damaged the nose of the car.
"We sat down after the practice session this morning and fortunately got everything together and we were able to get every single bit out of the car in qualifying which was crucial."
Team boss Christian Horner told Reuters that there had been only two wings in Japan like the one Vettel had wrecked and the champion had run in the second and third free practice sessions with an older version.
He said the new one had arrived about 20 minutes before qualifying.
Button, fastest in all three practice sessions, is the only driver who can deny Vettel the title at Suzuka but he must win and hope the German fails to score to keep the championship alive for another weekend.
Vettel has won from pole for the past two years at Suzuka and has finished his last 16 races in the points, with fourth his worst result of the season so far.
"Nine thousandths not good enough, there you go," said Button, who earlier in the week likened his challenge to Vettel to that of a four-year-old taking on an adult in a 100-metre sprint.
"I felt like I got everything out of the car. Fair play to the whole team, to be able to really fight the Red Bulls around here on a circuit they have dominated on is a great job."
McLaren's 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton qualified third and Brazilian Felipe Massa, with whom he controversially clashed in Singapore last month, will line up alongside for Ferrari in what promises to be a lively start.
Hamilton had been quickest after each had set a lap in the final phase of qualifying but then failed to cross the line in time to get a second run after Red Bull's Mark Webber and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher squeezed him out.
"With Lewis it was tight, we told him not to back up and let so many cars by," said team boss Martin Whitmarsh. "Unfortunately he got hustled by at the last corner and in so doing missed out on posting a time in the last lap."
Hamilton was reluctant to go into detail but clearly felt aggrieved and described the incident as "just the most ridiculous thing I've ever experienced in qualifying.
"I felt I had a couple of tenths at least left. I felt like I was in position to fight with these guys but it was a bit dangerous at the last corner, I had Mark attack me and I had Michael down the other side, it was very strange and that's why I lost out," he said.
Webber said he had not wanted to pass Hamilton "but the team were saying come on, get on with it, we're running out of time, we're not going to be able to start the lap.
"Lewis tried to block but I kept going, he didn't want me to come past, but I got through," added the Australian who will start on the third row with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg will start at the back of the grid after an hydraulics failure prevented him from taking part in qualifying. REUTERSReuse content