Lewis Hamilton blew away the field and his critics in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.
The McLaren star has come under fire this week for his aggressive driving style, but the 23-year-old produced a stunning performance to clinch the 13th pole position of his Formula One career.
But Hamilton has the red menace directly behind him as Ferrari duo of outgoing world champion Kimi Raikkonen and title rival Felipe Massa start second and third at the Shanghai International Circuit.
Hamilton has been virtually wheel perfect all weekend as he topped the timesheets in both of yesterday's practice sessions, while he was second only to Nick Heidfeld in today's final hour-long run.
But in qualifying Hamilton was imperious as he set the fastest lap times in each session.
However, he saved his best until last for the all-important Q3 with a time of one minute 36.303 seconds, an astonishing 0.342secs quicker than Raikkonen.
With a five-point cushion in the title race to Massa, Hamilton will have to finish six points better off than the Brazilian in the race if he is to become the sport’s youngest world champion.
Sadly, he failed to be given a helping hand by team-mate Heikki Kovalainen who could only qualify fifth, with Fernando Alonso fourth in his Renault.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber initially qualified sixth, but he will drop to 16th due to a 10-place grid penalty incurred after an engine change after the Renault unit blew in final practice.
That means Heidfeld is sixth in his BMW Sauber, with the Toro Rosso duo of Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais seventh and ninth, sandwiching Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, with Renault’s Nelson Piquet climbing into the top 10.
As for the title hopes of Robert Kubica, they are now slimmer than ever after the BMW Sauber driver failed to make the top 10 for only the second time this season.
The Pole will start 11th, equalling his worst qualifying run of the year, and now requires Hamilton and Massa to again trip up if he is to have any hope of heading to Brazil still in the hunt.
Toyota’s Timo Glock will start 12th, with Rubens Barrichello 13th for Honda, the Brazilian’s highest placing for 10 races, with Nico Rosberg 14th for Williams.
In the penultimate grand prix of his 15-season F1 career, David Coulthard will start 15th in his Red Bull after missing out on a place in Q2 by 0.091secs, and for the first time in five races.
However, Coulthard has asked his team to put in an appeal against Heidfeld after apparently being baulked by the German during the opening 20-minute session.
Behind the veteran Scot will be team-mate Webber, Kazuki Nakajima in his Williams and Honda’s Jenson Button, who finds himself miserably in the bottom three for the third time in four races.
The Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella again occupy the back row for the eighth time this season, the German narrowly edging the Italian on this occasion by nine thousandths of a second.
FIA Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit, Shangahi, China
Grid positions after Qualifying: 1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 1min 36.303secs, 2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:36.645, 3 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:36.889, 4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:36.927, 5 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:36.930, 6 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:37.083, 7 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:37.201, 8 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.685, 9 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:37.934, 10 Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:38.885, 11 Nelson Piquet Jr. (Bra) Renault 1:35.722, 12 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:35.814, 13 Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:35.937, 14 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:36.079, 15 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:36.210, 16 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull 1:36.731, 17 Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams 1:36.863, 18 Jenson Button (Gbr) Honda 1:37.053, 19 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:37.730, 20 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India 1:37.739