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Sports

Vettel sweeps to Suzuka pole position

Sebastian Vettel will start the Japanese Grand Prix from the front after outpacing his foes in qualifying. Vettel's Red Bull team mate Mark Webber qualified second, championship leader Fernando Alonso will start sixth.

The German world champion qualified a quarter of a second quicker than his Australian team mate as Red Bull looked dominant on the twisty, technical Suzuka circuit in Japan. For the first time this season, Vettel and Webber locked out the front row of the grid - a sight that was commonplace last season.

The Suzuka circuit appears to suit both Vettel and his Red Bull chariots; Vettel has started the last four Japanese Grands Prix from pole position, converting his 2009 and 2010 grid spots into race victories.

McLaren's Jenson Button was third fastest in Saturday's qualifying session, a further two tenths of a second adrift - but he will slide down the field owing to a penalty for a gearbox change, promoting home hero Kamui Kobayashi to third on the race grid.

A spin for Kimi Räikkönen late in the decisive third period of qualifying disrupted the laps of several other cars around him, who were forced to slow down at the site of his mishap.

Championship leader Fernando Alonso was among those affected and qualified in seventh, meaning he'll start sixth after Button's grid penalty, while McLaren's other charger Lewis Hamilton could only manage the ninth-best time.

Saubers up front, Schumacher on back row

The two Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, who will take Hamilton's place at McLaren next season, recorded the fourth and sixth fastest times, with Räikkönen's Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean the meat in a Swiss sandwich in fifth.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - MAY 23: Lewis Hamilton (R) of Great Britain and McLaren listens as Michael Schumacher (L) of Germany and Mercedes GP talks at the drivers press conference during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix (Photo: Getty Imgaes)

Schumacher will start second-to-last on the grid, seeking his eighth F1 win at Suzuka

German driver Nico Hülkenberg just squeaked into the top 10, narrowly out-qualifying his Force India team mate Paul di Resta.

Mercedes GP, however, had a disastrous day in Japan. Michael Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Friday at Suzuka, was thirteenth in qualifying but faces a ten-place grid penalty for his crash at the last race in Singapore - meaning he'll start on the last row of the grid. Schumacher was quicker than his team mate Nico Rosberg who was 15th on the timesheets.

Timo Glock had a typically joyless day in his backmarker Marussia car, managing only position 20 of 24.

At the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel wrapped up a dominant repeat world championship win – with several races remaining in the season. Nobody can achieve that this year but Fernando Alonso is safe at the lead of the pack for at least another race, regardless of Sunday's result, as he has a 29-point advantage over Vettel in the overall standings.

Saturday's pole position was the 34th of the 25-year-old Vettel's career, already making him the third-most successful qualifier in the history of Formula One, behind only Ayrton Senna and Schumacher. The result moved him ahead of two other greats of the sport, Alain Prost and Jim Clark, in only his sixth season in F1.