At the end of a week during which he has received precious little in the way of encouragement from either his rivals or Formula 1 critics, world championship leader Lewis Hamilton praised the 'support' of both his team and family after storming to pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Having invariably been the man to beat throughout free practice around the Shanghai International Circuit and after pacing both Q1 and Q2 - posting the fastest lap time of the weekend to-date in the latter - the McLaren-Mercedes star looked to have fallen into trouble following his first run in Q3, which left him just fifth.

A brilliant final effort, however, left Ferrari with their mouths agape as Hamilton saw off reigning F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen to the tune of more than three tenths of a second, and left title rival Felipe Massa trailing by just as much again in a truly dominant showing.

The Stevenage-born ace's seventh pole position of the season and second in a row has also come at a pivotal time for his assault on the drivers' laurels - as he bids to recover from a catastrophic Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji last weekend that saw him concede two potentially vital points to Massa in the chase for the crown.

"I got a bit out-of-shape during my first run in Q3," the 23-year-old confessed of his disappointing first effort in the top ten shoot-out. "I ran a bit wide at turn eight and oversteered onto the marbles, which put me on the wrong line for turn nine and left me cleaning my tyres for the rest of the lap.

"I pulled it all together for my final attempt, though, and it was as close as I could get to a perfect lap. Our whole weekend has gone well, I can really feel the support from the team and my family and we'll give it our best shot in the race tomorrow."

Indeed, though the Briton entered the Chinese weekend under something of a cloud, it is Massa who has looked the most under pressure and most likely to crack in Shanghai so far, leaving McLaren team principal Ron Dennis hopeful of registering the Woking-based outfit's first triumph since Hungary back in August, and Hamilton's first at Hockenheim a fortnight earlier still.

Indeed, should the eight-time grand prix winner add a ninth victory to his resum? in China with Massa finishing no higher than fifth, not only will he avenge his agonising error in having thrown his title hopes into the Shanghai gravel trap this time last year, but he will also become F1 Drivers' World Champion.

"Lewis produced another very strong qualifying lap to record his second successive pole position," Dennis underlined, "and we're confident that he's got a good strategy for the race. We should therefore be in a position to deliver a very competitive team performance tomorrow."

"Lewis kept it thrilling until the closing stages," added Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug, "but then put his car on pole position. This was probably the most important one of all seven he clinched this year.

"Tomorrow, both Lewis and Heikki [Kovalainen - team-mate] should be in a position to run quick and consistent lap times according to our long runs on Friday. It will be a very important day and all the team wants to make the best out of it. Having said that, we certainly will not forget that we have got strong competitors who won't make it easy for us."