Vettel extended Red Bull's perfect streak of poles to all 15 races this season, setting a lap of 1 minute, 30.466 seconds at the Suzuka circuit, edging McLaren's Jenson Button by just nine-thousandths of a second. Button's McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton was third fastest despite a mistake which meant he did not set a time in his final run.
"It was a great qualifying for us," Vettel said. "I went off the track yesterday and damaged the wing and that affected us but we were able to get everything out of the car today." Vettel ran off the track at the end of the first practice session yesterday, damaging the front of his car slightly.
He later called the incident a "wake-up call." Vettel needs only one point in Sunday's race or Button to fail to win to become the sport's youngest two-title winner. It was the 12th pole of the season for the 24-year-old German who has won the last two races here from pole.
"There wasn't much between me and Jenson," Vettel said. "I want to say thanks to the team and the factory for getting another front wing out for me."
Felipe Massa will start from fourth after the rare feat of outqualifying his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who was fifth. Button was fastest in all three practice sessions and was disappointed not to get his first pole of the year.
"You're always a bit disappointed when you are that close," Button said. "But the weekend has gone pretty good so far and we showed up here with a good package." Even though he is almost assured of winning the championship tomorrow, Vettel wasn't looking beyond the race.