Australian Mark Webber led a Red Bull front row sweep on Saturday and denied team mate and Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel a fifth successive Japanese Grand Prix pole position.
Webber, in his last season in the sport, lapped the figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit with a best time of one minute 30.915 seconds.
Vettel, who can clinch his fourth world title in a row on Sunday if he wins and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finishes lower than eighth, had problems with his car's kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and lines up second after lapping in 1:31.089.
It was pretty good. Sebastian had a problem in qualifying so it's a little bit of a hollow pole position if you like
"It was pretty good. Sebastian had a problem in qualifying so it's a little bit of a hollow pole position if you like," said Webber of his first pole position since South Korea in October last year.
"But I'm happy to be on pole and you've got to grab that opportunity when you can.
"We did the laps when they counted, and it's a very nice farewell for me on my final time here at Suzuka and on a phenomenal circuit," the Australian said.
"It was a real highlight for me. I think in general we've got a good car for the race."
Lewis Hamilton, for Mercedes, and Romain Grosjean in a Lotus, share the second row with Alonso qualifying only eighth while Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa starts fifth at a circuit where he finished runner-up last year.
Webber's 12th career pole marked the first time this season he has out-qualified Vettel, who arrived in Japan after three successive starts from the top spot.
It remains to be seen whether the Australian will be allowed to fight for the win on Sunday, however, with Webber out of contention for the title and leaving the team.
Vettel was fastest on Friday but struggled with KERS problems on Saturday morning, when he sat out the end of final practice while the team changed the battery.
Team principal Christian Horner said the problem had clearly not been resolved: "Unfortunately Seb didn't have KERS. So with that deficit, to get on the front row was really a success," he told reporters.
Qualifying was halted in the first phase for five minutes when red flags came out after Jean-Eric Vergne pulled over with his Toro Rosso's brakes on fire.
De Villota honoured
Drivers will hold a minute's silence at the GP and dedicate the winner's podium to the late Marussia test driver Maria De Villota.
A statement from the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA), which represents most but not all of those on the starting grid, said the silence would be held before the drivers' parade.
De Villota, who lost her right eye and fractured her skull in a freak accident during a straight line aerodynamic test in England in July 2012, was found dead in a hotel in her native Spain on Friday.
Her sister said the family had been told the 33-year-old, whose father Emilio was once a Formula One driver, had died in her sleep as a result of neurological injuries she suffered in the crash.
The GPDA said all its members had been saddened by the news and extended condolences to the family.
"Her positive attitude, maturity and extreme commitment will never be forgotten and are something we have learned from," the statement said.
"Maria will be missed and always remembered by all of us."
Japanese fans displayed a banner, in the colours of the Spanish flag, at the entrance to the Suzuka circuit with "Maria De Villota. Rest in Peace' written on it.