McLaren had topped all the practice sessions ahead of qualifying in the F1 Grand Prix of Korea, but they've appeared to be on top before in 2011 only to be denied pole position at the last second by Red Bull - or by their own slip-ups. Not so this weekend at Yeongam.

"I am happy. I am very happy. Happy to be here and very proud of what the team have been available to achieve over the course of the last few races," said Lewis Hamilton after claiming pole position. "I'm so, so proud of all the men and women both here at the circuit and back at Woking who've worked so hard to get us back to where we want to be."

Hamilton insisted that "today's result wasn't entirely unexpected" and that they had come close to achieving this for the last few races. "Throughout the year, I don't think my qualifying performances have been too bad - it's only in the last two races that I didn't manage to get my final run in Q3," he pointed out.

"Congratulations to Lewis - he's been very quick and has been all weekend and I just couldn't quite get close enough to him this afternoon," said Button who will line up in third place on the grid after hitting the rev limiter at the apex of the final corner during his fastest lap, which cost him a vital edge in his battle with Sebastian Vettel for second place.

Despite his insistence of being happy, Hamilton appeared curiously subdued and drained following the session, but he put it down to focussing on the race ahead. "I now want to put all my energy into the race," he explained.

"Pole position is still only the first step, particularly when we know that tomorrow's race will be long and unpredictable," he added. "We've been working to improve our starts, and I hope we can convert pole into the lead tomorrow ... It'll be difficult to beat the two guys starting immediately behind me, but I hope to keep the lead and control the race in a responsible way."

Lewis' reserved caution was shared by team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "Obviously, it feels great to be on pole, particularly if you haven't had it for some time, and we've missed a few that we felt we should have had this year," he said. "But it's not the full celebration yet."

"We're slightly heading into the unknown tomorrow as we haven't run high-fuel yet," agreed Button. "Off the line tomorrow, we'll need to get a feel for how the cars behave on high-fuel, and then we've got to focus on what we're doing to the tyres over the course of a stint."

But for all that, Button was unmistakably optimistic at how Sunday was looking for both him and his team mate.

"Our car is feeling good this weekend," said Button. "We have all the ingredients for a fantastic race. Even more encouragingly, if we continue this way, fighting for poles and wins, then it'll be a really good way to end the season and the perfect basis for 2012."

"I think it's going to be an intriguing race with some interesting tyre decisions and some exciting strategies," agreed Whitmarsh. "I think it could go any way between ourselves, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari - but I nonetheless think both of our guys will fancy their chances tomorrow."