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A Red Bull tops Japanese F1 qualifying but it's not Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel, left, waved to his fans after Japanese Grand Prix qualifying but Mark Webber recorded the fastest time.

Story highlights

  • Mark Webber clocks the fastest time in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix
  • Webber finishes ahead of Red Bull teammate and world champion Sebastian Vettel
  • The veteran Australian grabs pole position for the first time this season
  • Vettel can clinch a fourth straight world title Sunday if results go his way

A Red Bull racer grabbed pole position for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.

Given Sebastian Vettel is the reigning three-time world champion, is cruising to yet another title and finished fastest in qualifying in Japan the previous four years, you'd be forgiven for thinking the German once again led the way.

But Vettel had to settle for second Saturday behind teammate Mark Webber after a KERS -- kinetic energy recovery system -- malfunction robbed him of power at Suzuka.

Read: F1 interactive

It was Webber's first pole of the season and comes a month before he retires from Formula One.

"Sebastian had a problem in qualifying, so it's a little bit of a hollow pole position if you like," the Aussie was quoted as saying by Formula One's official website. "He still did a phenomenal lap.

"But I'm happy to be on pole. You have to grab the opportunities when you can and still get the laps in. It's a very, very nice farewell for me to have pole position on my last attempt here at Suzuka.

"It's a great circuit."

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Webber clocked a time of one minute, 30.915 seconds, beating Vettel by 0.174 seconds.

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Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso -- Vettel's nearest rival in the individual standings -- placing a distant eighth and three spots behind Ferrari's No. 2, Felipe Massa.

"Speculations in hindsight are never my thing," Vettel, who will bag the title Sunday if he wins and Alonso finishes lower than eighth, was quoted as saying by Formula One's official website. "Let's see it as a positive. I was pretty satisfied with my lap and that's all that matters.

"Sure the KERS failure cost us a bit, but it's a long race tomorrow and things can change very quickly.

"We'll have to find the issue and solve it. That's plan A. If that doesn't work we have to race without KERS."

Prior to last week's Korean Grand Prix, Alonso still hadn't given up hope of catching Vettel, although he acknowledged a comeback of the Oracle Team USA variety in the America's Cup sailing was needed.

Read: No title talk for Vettel

After Vettel triumphed in Korea to pad his lead to 77 points, Alonso is now focusing fully on helping Ferrari seal second position in the team standings.

It leads Mercedes by a mere point with five races remaining.

"The aim is definitely not just to finish in the first eight to keep the championship alive, because if Vettel doesn't win here, he will do it in one of the next races," Alonso was quoted as saying by Formula One's official website. "Now we need to pick up points for second place in the constructors' championship."

A minute's silence will be held before the race in memory of Maria de Villota, the former F1 test driver who died Friday.