Lewis Hamilton once again provided the closest thing to a threat to Red Bull in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, and insists that he is not giving up on further race wins in 2013.

Having been second to Mark Webber in morning practice, where Sebastian Vettel suffered a KERS problem, the Briton also had to cede to the German in qualifying, but slipped comfortably into third spot on the grid with his final run on a fresh set of medium Pirellis.

With the top six on the grid within half a second of each other, however, and his own mark of 1min 31.253secs being only three-tenths shy of pole, Hamilton remains confident of being able to offer a challenge in the race.

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"I am really happy with P3 on the grid - the team has done a great job this weekend, so thank you to everybody for their hard work," he enthused after the timed session, "It seems to me that we have a better package here than we've had for a while and the car felt awesome to drive. The wind direction changed around from yesterday's practice session and that changed the characteristics of the circuit, which felt like it had much more grip.

"Third place is a strong result from qualifying, but the Red Bulls were just out of reach. Managing the tyre degradation will be key tomorrow so, hopefully, we can get a good start from the clean side of the grid, then see what we can do from there against the guys in front."

Hamilton's optimism echoes claims made before the Suzuka weekend that, far from conceding the year to Red Bull, he remains determined to chase victory in each of the five remaining races, starting with Japan, where he has yet to repeat his debut season success at Fuji at the race's permanent home.

"I've not had any good races here and I really hope this will be a new start for me here - this is definitely one I would love to win," he told journalists at the start of the Suzuka weekend, "Red Bull has been the quickest here over the last four years and I anticipate they will be the quickest again, but I hope that our strong showing in the second sector at Korea will correlate here. Fingers crossed, I hope we can give the Red Bulls a close race. I haven't given up. We just need a weekend to go our way..."

While Hamilton lines up on the inside of row two, alongside :Lotus' Romain Grosjean, for Sunday's race, Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg will be a row further back after posting the sixth-best time of the final qualifying session.

The German also ran a new set of the option tyre in Q3, and was only a tenth shy of Hamilton's mark, but revealed that he had had one eye on Sunday's race.

"It was a good lap, but it's annoying when you step out of the car and the gap to the cars ahead is so close," he noted, "However, I have put my set-up more towards tomorrow afternoon, so I'm quite confident about what will be a challenging race for the tyres.

"Qualifying always involves some compromises in terms of set-up, but we saw in Korea that it was working out quite well for me in the race until my wing broke. I hope we have found the same good balance between qualifying and race performance this weekend. P6 is not a bad position to start from, and I will try to climb some places up the order."

Team principal Ross Brawn admitted that the shift in wind patterns had caused a few headaches in the Mercedes camp, but was happy nonetheless knowing that both cars had made it into the top six.

"That was a slightly patchy qualifying session for us, during which it was tricky to put the laps together in the very gusty conditions, so I think we can be reasonably pleased with third and sixth positions on the grid," he confirmed, "Both drivers did a very creditable job in the circumstances to maximise the car they had under them.

"Looking down the timesheets, it's intriguing to see such close gaps on a circuit of such challenging complexity, with hundredths of a second accounting for several grid positions up and down the field. Tomorrow's race will in large part be dictated by how well the cars and drivers are able to manage the tyres and I think we can expect a very interesting afternoon."