SHANGHAI, Oct 6 (Reuters) McLaren's Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix on pole position to become Formula One's youngest and first rookie world champion.
The 22-year-old Briton, winner in the rain and spray of Japan last weekend, seized his sixth pole of the season on Saturday to line up alongside Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on the front row for what is likely to be another wet and stormy race.
If he wins, the title is his.
Hamilton's closest rival, double world champion and team mate Fernando Alonso who is 12 points behind with just one race remaining after Shanghai, qualified fourth with Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa in third place.
''It's the place I needed to be,'' said Hamilton, as obviously delighted with the outcome of qualifying as he was relieved by the decision of stewards the previous evening not to punish him for alleged erratic driving at Fuji.
Hamilton spent most of Friday with the spectre of what would have been a devastating punishment hanging over him after suggestions that he had triggered a crash while leading behind the safety car at Fuji.
The decision to impose none lifted the gloom.
ROLLERCOASTER WEEKEND ''This weekend has been a bit of a rollercoaster,'' Hamilton said.
''I'm the type of person who, as soon as I heard they (the stewards) wanted to see me, thought the worst ... I accepted the fact that I might most probably get a penalty.
''I was quite relieved last night, I was able to get rid of that heavy bag that was on my shoulders -- and there is already a huge weight on my shoulders from leading the world championship.'' ''I'm going to try to win the race,'' he said.
''When I play golf and I'm in the bushes, I don't play safe but I go for the trees. It's a similar thing tomorrow. I'm not going to go out and let people past.
''But I will obviously be sensible, because the important thing is to finish the race.'' Alonso did not attempt to hide his anger after the session, having earlier told Italy's Sky television that the championship ''has been decided off the track.'' ''Fourth place is the worst place to start tomorrow in terms of the championship battle,'' he told reporters. ''But we expect some rain tomorrow and we know what can happen in wet races.'' Raikkonen, 17 points behind Hamilton, also recognised that his title hopes were slim but the Finn was no less determined.
''The championship is not looking too good but you never know,'' he said. ''I think we should have a good car for tomorrow whatever the conditions. I'm quite confident.'' Hamilton said he did not mind if it rained or not and added that he had learnt from his Fuji experience.
''I'll put my hands up and say perhaps I didn't do the best job behind the safety car,'' he said. ''But it was my first experience of the wet conditions behind the safety car and it was tricky for everyone.
''If I was leading again in those conditions behind the safety car, I would do the best job I can to do it better.'' Briton David Coulthard qualified fifth for Red Bull with Ralf Schumacher, who announced on Monday that he was leaving Toyota, sixth.
Australian Mark Webber starts on the fourth row for Red Bull with Germany's Nick Heidfeld in a BMW Sauber.
REUTERS SSC RK1537