Sebastian Vettel secured his third successive pole position ahead of the Korean Grand Prix to move ahead of Lewis Hamilton in their qualifying duel this season.
Starting the session on five poles apiece at the Korea International Circuit, Vettel had enough in hand over Hamilton come the conclusion that he could abort his final flying lap.
The three-times world champion posted a time of one minute 37.202secs in his Red Bull to finish just over two tenths of a second faster than Mercedes star Hamilton, who will start second.
Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber qualified third, but with a 10-place grid penalty hanging over him from Singapore the Australian will now start 13th. Webber's penalty means Lotus' Romain Grosjean moves up to third, with the Frenchman ahead of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari.
The Spaniard is Vettel's only realistic title challenger as he trails the 26-year-old German by 60 points, but will again have to play catch up come the race.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Sauber duo Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez will start sixth, seventh and eighth respectively, with the Swiss team getting both cars into the top 10 for the first time since last year's Japanese Grand Prix.
An off-form Kimi Raikkonen found himself 1.3secs behind team-mate Grosjean as he could only clock the 10th quickest time, but with the Finn starting ninth courtesy of Webber.
Beaten by the speed of the Saubers for once, neither McLaren made the top 10, with Sergio Perez ahead of Jenson Button by three thousandths of a second, with the duo to start 10th and 11th respectively.
Over the team radio, Button claimed he was "a little bit screwed by one of the Lotus' (Raikkonen) in the final sector".
Daniel Ricciardo will line up 12th in his Toro Rosso followed by Webber, who will be ahead of Force India duo Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta and the second Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne.
For the fourth time this season Williams saw both cars knocked out of the opening 20-minute qualifying session.
Valtteri Bottas will start ahead of team-mate Pastor Maldonado on row nine, with row 10 an all-Caterham line-up with Charles Pic edging Giedo van der Garde by seven thousandths of a second.
At Marussia, Max Chilton was on course to finally out-qualify Jules Bianchi, only for the Frenchman to put in a late quick lap and push the Briton down to last place on the grid by 0.153secs.
After claiming his 34th pole, Vettel said: "It was fairly close, as you could see.
"I had a good first lap in Q3 with my first attempt and I knew it would be tricky to beat that time myself, and fortunately that lap was good enough.
"All in all we can be happy with what we've achieved."
There is the prospect of rain for the race as Typhoon Fitow, that was initially expected to severely affect events, is instead now heading in a different direction.
It means the edge of the typhoon may throw up some wet weather and strong conditions, not that that concerns Vettel.
"It's changed direction, so it should be fine. Whether we get some rain from the typhoon, it doesn't matter," added the German.
Hamilton is merely hoping he will be able to hang on to Vettel as he said: "We did as good a job as we could. I feel like we got the most out of the car.
"In general it's been a good weekend for us so far, and I really hope we can fight with them tomorrow."
Webber, reflecting on his penalty, said: "I'm pretty happy with qualifying. I could be two positions better off, but will start 13th because of the penalty.
"The conditions will be different again tomorrow and we will see how it goes."