BEIJING, Oct. 12 -- McLaren's Lewis Hamilton boosted his Formula One world title chances by roaring to pole position for today's Japanese Grand Prix while Ferrari rival Felipe Massa could qualify only fifth. The Briton, who leads the standings by seven points from Massa with three races remaining, starts ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on the front row in Oyama after a late charge in yesterday's qualifying.
McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen was third quickest with Renault's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, the surprise winner in Singapore two weeks ago, fourth in the sunshine.
The title is obviously within my grasp, Hamilton told reporters after securing his sixth pole of the year and 12th of his 33-race career.
We're in a perfect position to score as many points as we can. I just have to keep the car on the road and bring it home.
Hamilton won a wet race at Fuji from pole in his rookie season last year to open a 12-point lead over former teammate Alonso only to blow his chance in the final two races in China and Brazil.
Raikkonen clawed his way back from 17 points behind to win the championship by a single point but the Finn's hopes of a repeat have been wrecked by a run of four races without a victory.
Massa's hopes of becoming the first Brazilian to win the title since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991 suffered another blow.
I was the quickest man on the track but at the wrong moment, he said. I've ended up fifth on the grid which is definitely not an easy place to be. Shame.
Raikkonen, a distant 27 points behind Hamilton and only mathematically still in the contest, ruled out any hope of another miracle fightback.
I'm not thinking about the world championship, said the Finn, back on the front row for the first time since June. We want to win both championships. It's not going to be easy against the McLarens.
McLaren leads Ferrari by one point in the constructors' championship.
Hamilton, who increased his championship lead over Massa after finishing third in Singapore while the Brazilian failed to score in the night race after a botched pitstop, is bidding to become Formula One's youngest world champion at 23.
Massa now needs a large slice of luck after losing two places in the dying moments of yesterday's final qualifying session when Kovalainen and Alonso lapped faster.
Massa will start alongside BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica, third in the championship but 20 points behind Hamilton, with the Toyotas of Italian Jarno Trulli and Germany's Timo Glock behind on the fourth row at the Japanese team's home circuit.
Toro Rosso filled the fifth row with Germany's Sebastian Vettel, winner in Italy, and France's Sebastien Bourdais.
Further back, Japan's only grand prix driver Kazuki Nakajima out-qualified his Williams teammate Nico Rosberg to take 14th place for his home debut.