Lewis Hamilton enhanced his hopes of taking the F1 title fight down to the wire when he outpaced Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg to grab pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
But Rosberg will secure his first world title if he can win Sunday’s race at the Interlagos circuit.
The defending world champion Hamilton clocked a best lap in one minute and 10.736 seconds on Saturday to beat the 31-year-old German by 0.102 seconds as the pair duelled in the final seconds of Saturday’s tense qualifying session.
It was the 31-year-old Briton’s 11th pole of the season and the 60th of his career, as well as a record 19th of the season for the Mercedes team.
Hamilton, fighting to retain his crown, is also aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive wins having won both the United States and Mexican races last month.
Behind the two Mercedes men, Kimi Raikkonen produced an unexpected late lap to take third for Ferrari narrowly ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Red Bull, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari and Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean was seventh for Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez, with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso taking 10th for McLaren.
Rosberg fastest in final practice
Earlier, Rosberg topped Hamilton in Saturday’s third and final practice .
Rosberg clocked a best time of one minute and 11.740 seconds on a damp morning at Interlagos to finish the session just 0.093 seconds ahead of the defending champion Hamilton, who was fastest in both sessions on Friday.
Rosberg, who holds a 19-point lead on the Briton with two races remaining, will win his maiden title if he completes a hat-trick of successive wins at the Brazilian event in Sunday’s race.
Hamilton has never won in Brazil — one of only two venues on the current calendar where he has not done so — but he also is seeking a hat-trick of three consecutive wins following triumphs in the United States and Mexico last month.
The weather conditions in Sao Paulo were significantly different on Saturday to the heatwave on Friday.
The cooler air, coupled with intermittent drizzle, created a very different set of challenges and little or no consistency with the lap times as the drivers and teams went through their final preparations ahead of qualifying later Saturday.
After struggling on Friday, Ferrari battled through the night to find improvements and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third-fastest, ahead of his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was fifth ahead of Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Jolyon Palmer for Renault.
Local hero Felipe Massa was ninth in the second Williams ahead of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren, the Spaniard returning to action after a problematic Friday that saw him suffer a car failure.
Separately, in a rare move, Mercedes had their pit “box” area — their spot in the pit lane — moved five metres (16 feet) down the pit lane because of a bump in the road that was upsetting Rosberg and Hamilton as they came in for pit stops
Four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel has escaped sanction after apologising to Formula One race director Charlie Whiting and the sport’s governing body for Sunday’s expletive-laden Mexican Grand Prix rant.
Lewis Hamilton stormed out of a press briefing after Japanese qualifying on Saturday, protesting what he called “disrespectful” coverage of the triple world champion earlier this week.
The peeved Briton was widely criticised by international media for fiddling with his mobile phone throughout Thursday’s FIA news conference at Suzuka.
After being pipped to pole position by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton let rip.
Lewis Hamilton needs to find some Zen-like mind control in Japan this weekend after a cruel engine fire left the world champion fuming in Malaysia.