McLaren's Lewis Hamilton took another giant step towards winning the world title by claiming pole position for Sunday's China Grand Prix in Shanghai.
It's my first time here and I slowly got to grips with it and I'm absolutely chuffed
The 22-year-old Briton, who leads the championship standings by 12 points, finished ahead of Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.
World champion Fernando Alonso, Hamilton's team-mate and closest rival, could only qualify fourth on the grid.
Victory in China would give Hamilton the drivers' title in his debut season.
"Thanks a lot guys, mega job. The car was fantastic," Hamilton said on the team radio after setting his best lap of the weekend in the dying seconds.
Hamilton, bidding to become the first rookie in Formula One history to win the prestigious title, had trailed Raikkonen and Massa for the majority of the session.
But he produced a time of one minute 35.908 seconds on his final lap in Qualifying Three to edge out Raikkonen by just over a tenth of a second.
It was a remarkable turn-around for the Briton, who had looked off the pace of the Ferraris and team-mate Alonso all weekend.
And, coming on the back of a turbulent few days in which it appeared as if he might be docked points for his behaviour behind the safety car in Japan last week, Hamilton admitted he was "over the moon" at grabbing pole position.
"It has been a rollercoaster week and an emotional journey for me over the last couple of days," he said.
"I tried as best as I could to put the Japan GP inquiry behind me but it's not easy. Then we came here this morning not really having the pace of the Ferraris or Alonso and perhaps it wasn't looking good.
"But it's my first time here and I slowly got to grips with it and I'm absolutely chuffed to grab pole."
I would say we are running on different fuel loads... I'm happy and comfortable with our position and strategy
However, Raikkonen insisted his second-place finish was down to him having a heavier fuel load, saying: "If you look at Qualifying One and Qualifying Two, we were a lot quicker.
"So I would say we are running on different fuel loads. I'm happy and comfortable with our position and strategy."
David Coulthard will start an excellent fifth in his Red Bull, ahead of Toyota's Ralf Schumacher and team-mate Mark Webber.
BMW Sauber duo Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica line-up eighth and ninth, while Jenson Button's Honda completes the Top 10.
However, it was a disappointing session for Renault's Heikki Kovalainen, who will start from 14th having finished second in Japan last week.
Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel has been demoted five places for Sunday's race after stewards overturned a 10-place penalty given to him at last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.
It was ruled the 20-year-old German rookie had impeded another driver during qualifying for the penultimate round of the season.
Vettel had qualified 12th after stewards initially lifted a 10-place penalty imposed for causing a collision in last week's race.
Final qualfying positions for China GP:
1. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1 min 35.908 seconds
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:36.044
3. Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:36.221
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:36.576
5. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull 1:37.619
6. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:38.013
7. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:38.153
8. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:38.455
9. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:38.472
10. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1:39.285
Second qualifying session:
11. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso 1:36.862
12. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:36.959
13. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Renault 1:36.991
14. Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri 1:37.247
15. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toytota 1:37.483
First qualifying session:
16. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:37.251
17. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Toro Rosso 1:36.891 (relegated from 12th)
18. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:37.290
19. Alexander Wurz (Aut) Williams-Toyota 1:37.456
20. Takuma Sato (Jap) Super Aguri 1:38.218
21. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Spyker 1:38.668
22. Sakon Yamamoto (Jap) Spyker 1:39.336