A rash of red flags may have dominated Formula One proceedings at Suzuka, but could not prevent Sebastian Vettel from dominating Japanese Grand prix qualifying.

The German may be on the verge of bowing out of the F1 title race, trailing Jenson Button by 25 points with three races remaining, but continues to do all he can to keep himself in the mix by taking his fourth pole position of the year with fastest time in Japan.

The German was the class of qualifying, topping each of the three sessions, but again had to wait for no fewer than three red flag interruptions to pass before he could claim pole.

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With Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber already missing after writing off his chassis on morning practice, Vettel's progress was slowed by two heavy accidents in Q2, when Jaime Alguersuari and Timo Glock suffered separate accidents. Those delays were then followed by a third stoppage when Heikki Kovalainen went off at Degner before posting a time in Q3.

Alguersuari joined the list of Degner victims when he went off at the start of his first visit to Q2, but emerged unscathed from his impact, caused by his Toro Rosso putting its left-hand wheels off the road on approach. Glock, however, was less fortunate, and was taken to hospital with what was reported as a 'leg wound', adding to the fever he was already suffering with. Kovalainen's accident was less violent, and the Finn was quickly back in the McLaren garage.

Once his countryman's car had been craned away, Kimi Raikkonen was the first to post a flying lap, but the 2007 world champion was no match for Vettel, who bided his time before venturing out - and then slashed the benchmark time by almost a second.

Simiarly, no-one had an answer for Vettel after the Red Bull driver had reset the target, with Jarno Trulli cementing second on the grid.

After that, the best anyone could manage was third, with Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil both occupying the position before Lewis Hamilton made it his with a late run. The Briton will line up alongside friend and rival Sutil for the second time in three races, while title contender Rubens Barrichello claimed a top five slot with his sole flier.

That put the Brazilian two places ahead of points leader Jenson Button, who managed only seventh as he followed his Brawn team-mate across the line, relegating Raikkonen to eighth and sandwiching BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld in sixth. Kovalainen joined Sebastien Buemi - who damaged his Toro Rosso at the end of Q2 - on row five after failing to set a time.

Buemi had starred in both opening phases of the session by vaulting his Toro Rosso into P4 - the first time after recovering from a wing-crucnhing spin at Degner - but later caused further headaches by wiping the nose of his car against the 130R barrier and leaving debris across the track as the latecomers tried to complete their runs. Despite dragging the wounded machine back to the pits, it was too badly damaged to continue, and the Swiss will start tenth.

The Q2 accidents turned the phase into a one-run lottery, as only Raikkonen had managed a flying lap by the time Alguersuari went off, and only Trulli had joined him when Toyota team-mate Glock ploughed off at the final corner.

The interruptions cost several drivers their initial runs, leaving them with the pressure of having to get things right first time. Hamilton and Vettel were among those out early enough to make their runs last two laps, and they ended up at the top of the times, with the German again leading the way. Trulli also made it through comfortably but, with four minutes to go, there were only four flying laps on the board and, with the chequered flag flying, six drivers still had to set a time.

Both Brawns went through Buemi's yellow flag zone, dodging his stricken front wing, but posted fourth and fifth fastest times to make the cut, but Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica all joined Glock and Alguersuari on the sidelines.

Already missing was Giancarlo Fisichella, who was the biggest name to miss out on a berth in the second phase of qualifying after again failing to get to grips with the second Ferrari. The Italian improved to 16th on his final run of the 20-minute opening session, but was still a couple of tenths too slow to progress any further, joining Kazuki Nakajima, Romain Grosjean, Tonio Liuzzi and the absent Webber to watch the remainder of the action.

Nakajima looked good to make it through until midway around his final lap, coming up short and allowing a ragged Kovalainen to escape the threat of an early exit even before he crossed the line to move from 15th to twelfth. Grosjean and Liuzzi never threatened the top 15.