MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Championship leader Nico Rosberg rescued his record of qualifying in the top two at every race this season when he grabbed second place behind pole-sitting Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Saturday's (Oct 29) qualifying for Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix.
Just when it looked likely that defending champion Hamilton would have the luxury of two cars between him and series leader Rosberg for the start of the race, the German produced his best lap of the weekend in the final seconds.
It enabled him to rescue his prospects of clinching his maiden title at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez where a repeat of his victory last year, coupled with Hamilton scoring only one point or fewer, would see him take his team-mate's crown.
"Lewis's lap was brilliant today, not so much mine," admitted Rosberg afterwards.
"But I managed to put it together when it counted so I am pleased with that. It still gives me a great chance for tomorrow.
"I took a bit longer than usual this weekend to find the way with my car and generally with the tyre temperatures on the cold side, but I got there in the end." Hamilton's pace and dominating form meant he continued his fighting late-season defence of his world title as he secured his 10th pole position of the season and the 59th of his career.
It was the Mercedes team's 12th one-two lockout on the grid this year.
That means Hamilton is six behind fellow three-time champion Ayrton Senna in the record books and nine adrift of the all-time record holder seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.
"It is always so tough trying to pull out a perfect lap when it matters," admitted the relieved three-time world champion. "Today was definitely very, very challenging.
"I think there is more grip on the track now than last year when we were sliding around a lot more. Today, for me, it felt more like a race track." He added that he had no special tactics planned for the race.
"I am here and I have turned up to do the job and I'll try and do the same thing I did last week (when he won in Austin). I'm looking forward to the race and the car feels great."
The defending champion dominated the session and delivered a best lap in one minute and 18.704 seconds, two-tenths of a second clear of championship leader Rosberg.
"I could have been three- or four-tenths quicker on my final lap," said Hamilton. "So although I am happy to have pole, I know I could have been faster.
"It's a long run down to the first corner and we know the tyres are going to be a factor. It's going to be a big challenge to look after the tyres." Rosberg added that he also had no special tactics for Sunday's showdown, but was intent on winning the race.
"I'm just looking to go out and do my best and like we have seen in other races this year it is not so bad to start second - I can win and that is what I want to do."
Dutchman Max Verstappen looked sure to take second until Rosberg's final fastest effort and he wound up third for Red Bull ahead of his team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
The Red Bull pair will start Sunday's race on super-soft tyres while the Mercedes men will be on ordinary softs, a strategic decision that may create a dramatic opening lap at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
"I have had a good feeling with the car all weekend," said Verstappen. "I was getting better and better, but it was a shame in Q3. I couldn't get the lap together.
"We have a different strategy for tomorrow." Ricciardo said: "I don't know how close we were to pole and I guess everyone had handling issues out there - for me, I had pretty terrible balance. It was a handful."