When Kamui Kobayashi put in an excellent final flying lap in qualifying for the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of Japan on Saturday afternoon to set the fourth fastest time of Q3, it seemed inevitable that the celebrations in the Sauber garage would be cut short by the inevitable summons from the stewards office.

TV replays had shown that the yellow flags had been out for Kimi Raikkonen's beached Lotus as Kobayashi went through on his flying lap, and that's the sort of offence that can get a driver a painful rap on the knuckles for disrespecting safety procedures.

But as it turned out, Sauber could probe that everything was just fine after all: "On my last lap I lost a bit of time because of the yellow flag when I backed off and switched off the DRS," said Kobayashi.

The telemetry data supported his explanation, and with KERS also not used during the part of S2 affected by the yellow flags it meant the stewards were happy that Kobayashi had done everything required of him. Not only did the Japanese driver keep his fastest lap time, he even got an extra bonus when fourth place became third on the grid thanks to a gearbox penalty for McLaren's Jenson Button.

"I want to thank the team for the big step forward they have managed with the car since Friday," said Kobayashi. "In the beginning we were struggling with the new parts but now we have got it right. After quite a few changes to the settings the car is fast again."

Sauber's CEO Monisha Kaltenborn explained that the team had struggled at first to get their new aero upgrades working. "We brought a new aero package to Suzuka, did a lot of work evaluating it yesterday and finally got the reward," she said.

Third place on the grid means that a podium finish is a genuine possibility for Kobayashi in the race on Sunday. That would be his first in F1, and it would mean the world for him if it were to happen here, before his home crowd.

"I should have a chance to fight for a podium finish, and it would be a dream come true if I could achieve my first podium in F1 in front of my home crowd," he said. "But first of all I have to manage a good start, and then I should have more luck than in Spa this year where I started from the front row but got involved in an accident."

His team mate Sergio Perez was also involved in that accident. In his first race since the announcement that he was leaving the team at the end of the season to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, the Mexican youngster managed to secure fifth place on the grid for Sunday and has every intention of getting a podium of his own.

"I am very happy for the team that we have achieved such a strong qualifying result today," he said. "I'm confident tomorrow in the race we will be able to fight for another podium."

"Great compliments to the team and, in particular, to the two drivers who both did a great job," said Kaltenborn, hailing the day's work as "a sensational result" and adding: "Now our goal is to convert this qualifying result into a great race."