SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Red Bull driver Mark Webber claimed pole position on Saturday for the Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying ahead of his teammate and runaway championship leader Sebastian Vettel for the first time this season.
Webber clocked a time of 1 minute, 30.975 seconds at the Suzuka circuit, with Vettel just under two-tenths of a second behind in second place after struggling with his KERS power-boost system.
"Sebastian had a problem so it's a bit of a hollow pole but you have to grab the opportunities when you can," said Webber, who is leaving F1 at the end of the season. "It's a very nice farewell for me on my final time here at Suzuka and on a phenomenal circuit. It was a real highlight for me. In general we've got a good car for the race."
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, followed by Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was sixth ahead of Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg.
Vettel has won three of the past four races in Japan and can clinch his fourth successive world title in Sunday's race. The title will be his if he wins and nearest rival Fernando Alonso, who was eighth in qualifying, finishes ninth or worse.
Vettel is looking to join Michael Schumacher and Juan-Manuel Fangio as the only men to win four championships in a row. The German, who has a 77-point lead over Alonso, has won the past four races, leading after every lap in each of them.
Vettel, who was bidding for his fourth straight pole, was hobbled by a KERS problem on his first lap of the final qualifying session but refused to blame Saturday's finish on his car's technical problems, which initially surfaced in the morning practice.
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