Lewis Hamilton Nico Rosberg Mercedes
Nico Rosberg (R) waves to the crowd after finishing ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the qualifying session of the Japanese GPReuters

Nico Rosberg seized pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of teammate and Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who completed a front-row lockout for Mercedes in qualifying on Saturday.

Rosberg, who relinquished the championship lead to Hamilton after retiring from the last race in Singapore, lapped the 5.8 km Suzuka Circuit in one minute 32.506 seconds to claim his first pole since the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August.

"I'm not thinking about Singapore at all," said Rosberg, who trails Hamilton by three points after a steering wheel failure led to an early retirement at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

"It was a great day today, it is only one step on the way -- but really great. The car is so amazing to drive."

Hamilton, who had been fastest in the opening session of qualifying, failed to better Rosberg's benchmark after locking up on his final attempt and missed out on scoring a hat-trick of pole positions by just under two tenths of a second.

"Not too much really," Hamilton said when asked what went wrong on his lap. "Nico was extremely quick today, I did the best I could.

"Just wasn't really feeling it, don't know why, but tomorrow is the day when you get the points," added the Briton, whose car had to be hurriedly repaired after he crashed in Saturday morning's practice session.

Despite his error, Hamilton's time was quick enough to secure Mercedes an eighth front-row lockout of the season. The team have looked dominant all weekend and could leave Japan with the constructors' title wrapped up if results go their way.

Valtteri Bottas took third for Williams ahead of teammate Felipe Massa, with the Grove-based squad taking over from Red Bull as the best of the rest on a circuit that suits their car.

The reigning world champions had scored a double podium behind Hamilton in Singapore but were unable to carry that form over to Japan.

Sebastian Vettel, set to leave the team at the end of the season for Ferrari, only managed a disappointing ninth fastest at a circuit where he has won four of the last five grands prix.

Issues with the car had curtailed his final practice session and the German continued to struggle throughout the qualifying hour.

Fernando Alonso, who Vettel is expected to replace at Ferrari next year, set the fifth fastest time on what is likely to be one of his final few Saturday appearances for the Maranello-based squad.

Daniel Ricciardo was sixth in the Red Bull ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button in the McLarens. Kimi Raikkonen, who had also lost track time in final practice, rounded out the top-ten in the other Ferrari.

Force India disappointed in qualifying, managing only 12th and 14th, with Sergio Perez coming in ahead of his teammate Nico Hulkenberg.

While Mercedes have topped the timesheets in every session this weekend, rain from Typhoon Phanfone could make things tricky for drivers on Sunday, even if the Silver Arrows remain the cars to beat.

The worst of the storm lurking off the coast of Japan is expected to be felt on Monday and qualifying took place under sunny skies.

However, Formula One's official forecaster has warned that bands of rain from the typhoon are expected to drench the Suzuka circuit on raceday.

"Tomorrow we are expecting it to be wet," Rosberg said. "The last experience we had in the wet was Spa where the car was really, really quick. If it rains it could be even better."

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