Lewis Hamilton's pole position for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway has been lauded as 'possibly the best lap of his career so far' - even though the Formula 1 World Championship leader himself admitted it 'wasn't perfect'.

Whilst McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari appeared to be extremely evenly-matched throughout both practice and the first two parts of qualifying, a surge from Kimi Raikkonen in Q3 looked to have put Hamilton on the back foot somewhat, as the 23-year-old embarked upon his final flying effort sitting just third on the grid, behind both scarlet machines.

A stunning lap, however, proved quick enough to not only comfortably topple Massa, but also knock Raikkonen off the top spot by more than two tenths of a second - and with the Brazilian, Hamilton's chief title rival, due to start from just fifth, the race will now mark the perfect opportunity for the Stevenage-born ace to repeat his superb Japanese Grand Prix victory from twelve months ago and further extend his advantage in the drivers' standings.

"Usually, on a heavy fuel load, the car can be quite tough to drive on the limit," he reflected, "but I managed to pull all the sectors together and drove a pretty good lap. It wasn't perfect - I made a small mistake in the final corner, where I lost a tenth - but we had a good session.

"The team has done a phenomenal job all weekend, and Heikki's [Kovalainen] and my pace today really underlines that. We think we've got a good strategy for tomorrow and we want to finish at the front."

Indeed, after seeing Hamilton take the twelfth pole of his fledgling career in the top flight, McLaren's joy was nearly completed when Kovalainen in the sister MP4-23 leapfrogged Fernando Alonso, Massa and Robert Kubica at the last gasp to secure third position - having struggled initially during Q1 to get close to his team-mate's times, before going on to outpace the British star in Q2.

"A pretty good session for me," underlined the Finn, who like Hamilton will begin the grand prix from the cleaner side of the grid. "It took a little time to get up-to-speed in Q1, but I put two good laps together in the final session.

"We were very quick in Q2 as well and, while third was really the best I could manage today, I'm still very pleased with the result. We're targeting both world championships in these final few races, so I'll be looking for the very best result for myself and the team tomorrow."

Those sentiments were shared by the Woking-based outfit's team principal Ron Dennis and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. After missing out on both crowns at the end of a harrowing 2007 campaign, McLaren is determined to rebound this year by sealing not only the drivers' end-of-season laurels, but constructors' glory too.

"First and third in qualifying is clearly a very satisfying result," acknowledged Dennis, "and represents a very strong team performance. Lewis' pole lap was awesome in the proper sense of that often-abused adjective - in fact I'd go so far as to say that it was possibly the best lap of his career so far and best pole of his life. It was a tremendous effort.

"Heikki's lap was also very impressive and extremely pleasing - because it showcases the strength and depth of our driver line-up and of our whole team. Having said all that, although we'll enjoy our qualifying success this evening, the race is what really matters.

"All I'll say about that is that we've sacrificed nothing in our efforts to achieve advantageous grid positions, and are therefore looking forward to putting in a very competitive performance tomorrow."

"A great lap from Lewis [and] a great lap from Heikki make pole position and position three for us," added Haug. "This is a perfect line-up for the start tomorrow, but we certainly will not make the mistake of underestimating our competitors.

"We should be strong in the long runs of the race as shown on Friday during the practice sessions, but Ferrari will be very quick too, so there will be no room for errors tomorrow.

"For today, we are perfectly happy - thank you to the team and thanks to Lewis and Heikki. It would be great of course, if we could generate the same feeling inside the team at the same time tomorrow."