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.
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.