Sebastian Vettel survived a rare nail-biting moment to further sink his teeth into this year's Formula One world title.
Vettel claimed his second successive pole, fifth of the season and 41st of his career for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix where he has reigned supreme for the last two seasons.
Looking so comfortable in qualifying, with a six tenths of a second cushion after his first explosive run in the top-10 shootout, Vettel stepped out of his Red Bull and watched the action unfold from his garage as his rivals embarked on a second run. But it proved nerve-wracking stuff for the three-times world champion as team-mate Mark Webber, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean in his Lotus all purpled different sectors (set the fastest time) at various stages.
At one stage a camera showed Vettel biting his nails as he looked on, before punching the air and displaying his now trademark raised index finger upon realising he had taken pole.
It was a close-run thing, however, as Vettel edged out Rosberg by 0.091secs, with Grosjean third and Webber fourth, with Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes not in the picture on this occasion as he will start fifth.
As for Vettel's two other title rivals in Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus, the Spaniard lines up seventh behind team-mate Felipe Massa, with the Finn 13th as he is struggling with a back injury.
Assessing his anxious moments as a spectator rather than a driver, Vettel said: “It’s a weird feeling. You are standing in the garage with roughly two minutes to go in the session and you know it’s too late.
“Then it becomes much worse when you see the others on their final attempt and you know there’s nothing you can do. I watched the sector times very closely with obviously Romain, Nico, and Mark in particular. Mark started with a purple sector one, very close in sector two, then Nico had a purple sector two, then Romain had a purple sector two.
“Fortunately my last sector was strong enough to just stay ahead, but it was very close in the end with Nico. After that there was obviously a great feeling because it could have gone so wrong, so I’m very happy with the result, and the car’s been phenomenal all weekend.”
Whilst Vettel may have won the last two races in Belgium and Italy, and triumphed under the Marina Bay Street Circuit’s lights the last two years, there is no guarantee of completing either hat-trick on Sunday.
In Singapore’s five previous night races the safety car has made an appearance on eight occasions as the track lends itself to crashes, coupled with the high heat and humdity and two-hour duration.
Vettel is fully aware of the “big challenge” that lies ahead when it comes to keeping his car out of the barriers and avoiding potential technical problems.
“The race is so long, with so many corners, and it’s very difficult to keep the focus for the entire lap,” assessed Vettel. “You hate it and love it at the same time. Obviously in qualifying if you get the lap right it feels fantastic. But it’s the challenge I love - we love - when we come here.”
Trailing Vettel by 53 points, qualifying day was another to forget for Alonso as it is now eight successive races he has failed to start from the front rows.
Finishing a second adrift of Vettel, Alonso said: “It’s sad news for us, obviously, but there is nothing we can do now apart from prepare for a perfect race.”
Hamilton, 81 points down on Vettel, was particularly downbeat post-race as he said: “Ultimately I wasn’t fast enough.
“Clearly the car was quicker than I was able to get out of it, so it’s frustrating not to have qualified closer to the front as Nico did. Not a good day for me, but that’s life. We’ll turn the negative into a positive and I’ll push as hard as I can in the race tomorrow.
“There are still people ahead of me that we can beat and our target will be to get on the podium, that would be amazing.”
McLaren's Jenson Button lines up eighth, with Paul Di Resta down in 17th in his Force India, whilst Marussia's Max Chilton starts at the back.