Sebastian Vettel described his 12th pole position of the 2011 season as his toughest of the year so far, saying he was delighted to deliver the result despite a tough build-up at Suzuka.
Vettel had a minor accident in Friday morning practice that cost him a lot of track time, and had then been concerned that he could not match pacesetter Jenson Button's McLaren in the remaining sessions.
But in qualifying he managed to find more pace and edged out Button by 0.009 seconds.
"What a qualifying," said Vettel. "Yesterday I went off in free practice and damaged the wing, so it wasn't ideal in the afternoon to prepare the car for today.
"We suffered a bit this morning in particular where we were kind of coming back regarding car balance but we were too slow.
"We sat down after the practice session this morning and fortunately got everything together and were able to get every single bit out of the car in qualifying.
"It was crucial, there's not much between Jenson Button and myself. It was a tough qualifying but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a long lap, you have a mega first sector, every time it is a challenge, it's hard to get it right. I had a bit of a wobble in the first sector but got it right in the second sector."
If Vettel scores a single point in tomorrow's race, he will clinch the world championship for a second straight year. But he said he would banish that thought from his mind until the race was over.
"Regarding the point or no point, I am not really focusing on that," he said.
"I had a lesson yesterday where I didn't do a big mistake, but for a little moment I was not 100 per cent focused and lost the car.
"Tomorrow is a long race and a very challenging race. We start from pole position and it will be very special tomorrow. Lot of things can happen and DRS can open a couple of chances so we'll see where we are.
"We had a good racecar yesterday in preparation so it should be alright. I am looking forward to the race, not the point."