SINGAPORE (AFP) - Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel can take another huge step towards his fourth straight world title and Formula One greatness when he starts on pole at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday.
The sublime young German zeroed in on his third win in Singapore, and his fourth in five races this season, with a brilliant drive to qualify at the front of the grid late on Saturday.
He will start Sunday's night race knowing another victory will put him closer to joining Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as only the third man to win four world titles in a row.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg will start from second but Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, second in the standings but 53 points behind Vettel, is seventh.
British Mercedes pilot Lewis Hamilton, who is also mathematically capable of reeling in Vettel, will get under way from fifth.
And Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen, also barely alive in the championship race, will battle severe back pain as he starts from way back in 13th.
"It's not the first time I've driven with a problem and it probably won't be the last time either, but I'll be on the grid tomorrow and we'll try to get the maximum from where we are at the start," said the Finn, 33.
Formula One's only night race affords a sumptuous spectacle for fans as it snakes through the towering skyscrapers and landmarks of downtown Singapore.
But the bumpy street track, twisting round 23 corners, and South-east Asian heat and humidity make it one of the stiffest challenges of the year for drivers.
"It's one of the toughest races we face all year, I would say the toughest physically and mentally. It's so long and there's so many corners, there's hardly any room for mistakes," Vettel said.
"Pole is the best position to start from. I'm very happy with that as it's tricky to pass on this track. But because it's such a long race I think there's plenty of opportunities for all of us." The 26-year-old put in a stunning drive late on Saturday to set the two fastest times and was so confident that he decided to sit out the last few minutes of qualifying.
However, he endured some nervy moments as his time came under threat, and punched the air in relief when outgoing team-mate Mark Webber came up just short.
After a slow start to the season Vettel has won half of this year's 12 races and three of the past four to take the championship by the scruff of the neck.
Such is his dominance that boos have started ringing out when he ascends the podium, a fact that seems to perplex the youthful star.
But after being taken to the last day of the season in 2010 and 2012, the German is not ruling out a late charge by Ferrari's dogged campaigner, Alonso, a two-time world champion.
"I think the Ferrari was struggling the last couple of events in qualifying but they have very, very good race pace," Vettel said.
"I think the last couple of races Fernando has finished on the podium, and I'm sure they will come back," he said.