Lewis Hamilton beat his title rival Sebastian Vettel in qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix to take his 10th pole in 16 races this season.
Hamilton was 0.332 seconds quicker than team-mate Valtteri Bottas despite a slightly scrappy final run.
Vettel was 0.472secs off the pace but will start alongside Hamilton on the front row because of a five-place grid penalty for Bottas because of a gearbox change.
Hamilton and Vettel will be battling on their own as both their team-mates will drop down the grid with penalties.
Vettel still has a chance
The second Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen could manage only sixth quickest after crashing in final practice, an incident which damaged his gearbox and meant he also has a five-place grid penalty.
The Briton is 34 points ahead of Vettel with five races to go and 125 still available so the German could really do with beating Hamilton in the race to revive his faltering title hopes.
Hamilton said: “We have worked hard for the car to hopefully work well in the race. The Esses really kill the tyres. I am hoping we are in a good position for that. Naturally the Ferraris will be rapid as they always are but I plan to keep them behind.”
Hamilton was 0.641 seconds clear of Bottas on his first run but the Finn closed the gap on the final laps, when the three-time champion lost time locking up at the Hairpin and improved by only 0.026secs.
His fastest lap was a new track record, beating the previous one set by Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari in 2006 by 1.635secs.
It was also, remarkably, his first pole position at the fabled Suzuka circuit.
“Super-excited,” he said. “It’s been 10 years trying to get that pole. Finally got it. I knew it would eventually come.”
Vettel failed to improve at all on his second lap, running wide at the Esses trying to make up time on the dominant Mercedes.
Bottas recovered well after a crash in final practice, when he ran wide at the exit of Spoon Curve and clouted the wall, an encouraging improvement in form after a difficult run of races since F1 returned from its summer break at the end of August.
Ricciardo beats Verstappen
Daniel Ricciardo beat Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen for the first time in seven races to take fifth ahead of the Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, the Williams of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
Alonso displaced team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne in the top 10 shoot-out with his final lap in second qualifying but the Spaniard will start from the back as a result of a 35-place grid penalty for using more than the permitted number of engine parts.
He is one of several drivers with grid penalties, with Renault driver Jolyon Palmer and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz both hit with 20-place drops for engine usage.
Palmer qualified 14th, two places and 0.143secs off team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, one of the Englishman’s best performances of the season. Sainz was 15th.