Nico Rosberg stormed to pole position in Saturday`s qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, outpacing Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
German Rosberg, who trails Hamilton by three points in the championship standings with five races remaining, lapped 0.197 seconds quicker than the Briton as the feuding rivals prepare to lock horns in Sunday`s race.
Rosberg clocked a best lap of one minute and 32.506 seconds in the final moments of a tense qualifying session in good conditions at the iconic Suzuka circuit for his first pole in Japan and eighth of the year.
Hamilton, bidding for a third successive pole position having overtaken Rosberg in a see-saw and often acrimonious title race, had crashed out in the morning practice, robbing him of the chance to test the faster, soft compound tyres.
Rosberg drove with cool concentration and showed he has recovered from his disappointment in Singapore two weeks ago when he was the victim of an electronics system failure and had to retire.
The two Mercedes men locked out the front row again, breaking Red Bull`s five-year domination of pole at Suzuka on the day four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel set tongues wagging by announcing he will leave the team at the end of the year.
Germany`s Vettel, who has won the Japan race four of the past five years, could only muster the ninth-fastest lap.
Finland`s Valtteri Bottas was six-tenths down and third fastest for Williams behind the dominant Mercedes cars, ahead of team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa.
Two-times champion Fernando Alonso drove his Ferrari to fifth on the grid, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo alongside him in his Red Bull.
Race organisers are anxiously monitoring the weather for Sunday with fears a typhoon could dump a significant amount of rain on the region.