CHINESE GRAND PRIX, Shanghai International Circuit
Race: Sunday, 19 October from 0800 BST Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sport website and ITV1
Hamilton captured his seventh pole of the season in Shanghai
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton gave his world title hopes a big lift by taking pole for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.
The Briton finished in front of title rivals Felipe Massa, who will start third, and Robert Kubica, whose bid was dented by a poor qualifying session.
Hamilton, 23, leads the standings by five points with just two races to go.
World champion Kimi Raikkonen, Massa's Ferrari team-mate, was second, with Renault's Fernando Alonso, who has won the last two races, claiming fourth.
BMW Sauber's Kubica, who lies 12 points behind Hamilton, put in his worst qualifying performance of the season and will start in 11th.
The Pole complained about the car's balance throughout the session in Shanghai and had to drive to his limit to eke out any pace at all after just squeezing into the second period of qualifying.
"I expect a tough race now because we are not allowed to change the set-up," Kubica said.
Kovalainen, who had been expected to support his team-mate Hamilton with a strong performance in qualifying, claimed fifth place.
Asked after the race if he could help Hamilton's race strategy now, he shrugged and answered "not much".
Red Bull's Mark Webber qualified in sixth place but will start from 16th place on the grid after incurring a 10-place penalty for a last-minute engine change.
I've not had anything hanging over me or anything on my mind except the need to produce a good lap
BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld had finished seventh but was demoted three places for impeding David Coulthard's Red Bull.
Sebastian Vettel for Toro Rosso, Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Sebastien Bourdais in the second Toro Rosso complete the top-10 line-up.
Hamilton dominated qualifying, setting the benchmark for the rest of the field in each of the three sessions.
The 23-year-old repeated his usual trick of saving the best until last, setting a fastest lap of one minute 36.303 seconds in the closing minute to overhaul Raikkonen's best mark by 0.342secs.
"We came here very strong and determined and that was one of my best qualifying performances," Hamilton said.
"Ferrari will be very competitive at the start but I'm in a better position to at least attack. If Kimi is ahead of me it doesn't matter - as long as Felipe is behind me."
Hamilton's build-up to the race weekend has been overshadowed by criticism from his fellow drivers about his aggressive driving style but the Englishman insists he has been unaffected by the comments.
"I've not had anything hanging over me or anything on my mind except the need to produce a good lap," he added.
"You can see from this result I'm dealing with it all quite well. I've a huge amount of support from back home, from across the world, from my team and especially from my family.
"It was still tough out there with everyone very competitive, but I'm happy I got the lap done."
Hamilton can capture the world title in Shanghai on Sunday in several scenarios; if he wins, with Massa lower than fourth; if he is second, with Massa lower than sixth; or if he is third, with Massa out of the points, as long as Kubica does not win.
Massa ran behind Hamilton in qualifying and had a chance to eclipse Hamilton's provisional pole but could only manage the third fastest time, raising questions over his fuel load.
The Brazilian will line up on the second row alongside Alonso but remains confident he can still challenge his title rival Hamilton.
"We were struggling a bit this weekend, struggling to make the right lap and to put everything together and it looked like McLaren have an easier car," he said.
"We don't know how we will do in the race but I'm confident I can fight for the victory tomorrow."
In a repeat of last weekend's front row for the Japanese GP, Raikkonen lines up alongside Hamilton and the reigning world champion's presence could again unsettle the Englishman.
Hamilton made a shaky start in Fuji and was penalised for taking the Finn off the track as the pair battled for the lead.
Raikkonen played down Ferrari's competitiveness whilst making it clear he intended to challenge Hamilton again in Shanghai.
"This hasn't been the easiest weekend," said the Finn.
"The McLaren has been fast all weekend, and the three-tenths (of a second) gap is quite big, but we will see tomorrow how they will be in race conditions.
"We are not in first place but we are still in a good place to try to win."
At the opposite end of the pack, David Coulthard starts his penultimate Grand Prix in 15th place for Red Bull.
The Scot also successfully won an appeal against Heidfeld, who he claimed spoilt his flying lap in the opening session.
"It was unsporting behaviour by Heidfeld," Coulthard said. "He had no intention of a faster lap."
Results from qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.303
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1:36.645
3. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 1:36.889
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:36.927
5. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.9306.
6. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:37.685
7. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:37.934
8. Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.885
9. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:37.201 *
10. Nelson Piquet (Brz) Renault 1:35.722
11. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:35.814
12. Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:35.937
13. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 1:36.079
14. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:36.210
15. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault 1:36.7316.
16. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:37.083 **
17. Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams-Toyota 1:36.863
18. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1:37.053
19. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 1:37.730
20. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India-Ferrari 1:37.739
* = demoted three places for impeding
** = demoted 10 places for engine change