Vettel gets to keep pole
Sebastian Vettel has been allowed to keep his Japanese Grand Prix pole position but has been reprimanded by the stewards for impeding Ferrari's Fernando Alonso during qualifying.
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Red Bull driver Vettel struck early in the final part of qualifying to take his fourth straight pole at Suzuka with a lap of one minute 30.839 seconds.
It is Vettel's 34th in all, moving him to an outright third on the all-time list behind only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
But, shortly after the session finished, Vettel and championship leader Alonso, who set the seventh-fastest time, were summoned to appear before the stewards to investigate allegations he had baulked the Spaniard at the chicane during the final moments of qualifying.
A grid penalty would have dealt Vettel's title hopes a blow, but the reprimand means he will lead the field away at the start of Sunday's 53-lap race with Red Bull the dominant force thus far this weekend.
The incident between the title rivals - Vettel trails Alonso by 29 points - came during a dramatic finish to the session.
Kimi Raikkonen's spin at Spoon Curve brought out the yellow flags and ruined the final attempts of the likes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on a disappointing day for McLaren.
Button ultimately ended up third fastest, behind Vettel and his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, but his five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change means he will start eighth.
That will still see him start ahead of Hamilton, who could only manage ninth after telling his team during Q1 he was in for a "struggle''.
Hamilton may also have cause for concern in the performance of Mercedes, who he will join next season.
The Silver Arrows set times only good enough for 13th and 15th in the hands of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, although Schumacher will drop to the back row due to a 10-place penalty.
Jean Eric-Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg are the other drivers to serve penalties this weekend.
Vergne was handed a three-place drop for blocking Bruno Senna at the end of Q1 while Hulkenberg's efforts in getting into Q3 were undermined by a gearbox change and five-place punishment following his off in final practice.
One man to escape sanction was home hero Kamui Kobayashi. The Sauber driver will start third, moving up a spot as a result of Button's penalty, despite having set his best lap time while the yellows were out in sector two for Raikkonen's spin.
But he was allowed to retain his position as his second sector on the lap in question was slower than his best in that part of the track.
Romain Grosjean will line up fourth in the leading Renault with new McLaren signing Sergio Perez underlining Sauber's pace this weekend as the Mexican secured fifth on the grid.
Alonso will start sixth, but the Spaniard will be concerned as Ferrari find themselves off the pace of Red Bull and McLaren for the fifth race in a row.
Speaking prior to news of the stewards investigation, Vettel was delighted with his pole position, and described his qualifying as ''perfect".
He said: "I am very happy with the result. We had a very smooth qualifying - really perfect. We could not ask for more.
"The car felt fantastic from the start of the session. We did not have the best start to the weekend but we have seemed to get better every time we have gone out. I am very pleased with the result.
"The car feels fantastic around here and obviously we hope for a very good race tomorrow.''
By taking pole, Vettel moves above Jim Clark and Alain Prost on the all-time list of pole winners, leaving him behind only Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, arguably the two greatest drivers the sport has ever seen.