Mercedes' Rosberg takes pole at Japanese GP

World champion Hamilton, who leads the championship standings by 41 points from Rosberg, will start alongside Rosberg at Suzuka on Sunday, while Valtteri Bottas steered his Williams to third on the grid ahead of Vettel.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg celebrates after winning the pole position in the Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers.   -  Reuters

Lewis Hamilton takes a selfie with a fan during the Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers.   -  Reuters

Nico Rosberg, along with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, after the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.   -  Getty Images

Nico Rosberg stormed to pole in Saturday's qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, edging out Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton after Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat survived a hair-raising smash.

World champion Hamilton, who leads the championship standings by 41 points from Rosberg, will start alongside the German at Suzuka on Sunday, while Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel qualified for the second row after a late surge.

“Happy birthday, mum!” Rosberg said in German after securing only his second pole of the year by just 0.076 seconds. “That's a birthday present for you. Obviously this is a great comeback for the team after Singapore.”

Finland's Valtteri Bottas steered his Williams to third on the grid ahead of Vettel -- who won last weekend's night race to boost his outside title hopes -- with team mate Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari on the third row.

Rosberg also topped the timesheets in a frantic final practice session on Saturday morning after heavy rain effectively washed out Friday's practice.

With memories of Frenchman Jules Bianchi's fatal crash at Suzuka last year raw this weekend, Kvyat reminded everyone of Formula One's inherent risks when he crashed spectacularly on approach to the hairpin.

Despite flipping over and totalling his car, the Russian was able to climb out of the mangled wreckage unhurt as red flags brought a premature end to qualifying.

There was early drama when Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso came to a halt poking out dangerously across the track after breaking down with electrical trouble exiting the hairpin.

The Dutch teenager trudged back to the pits, yellow flags having bounced out several drivers, including Jenson Button, who was furious after his worst ever Japan qualifying result.

“The position we are in, we cannot make any mistakes,” the Englishman snapped at McLaren mechanics.

A repeat of Hamilton's victory in Japan last year, when he was also pipped to pole by Rosberg, would put the Briton tantalisingly close to a third world title with five races left.

Hamilton suffered his first race-ending retirement in over a year in last Sunday's race, when the dominant Mercedes were rocked by a mysterious loss of pace.

He was also 1.5 second slower than Vettel in qualifying, but normal service has been resumed in Japan as Mercedes have posted the quickest times in wet and dry conditions.

Hamilton will be chasing an eighth victory of the season in Japan and bidding to equal boyhood hero Ayrton Senna's tally of 41 race wins.