Sebastian Vettel scored his first pole position since Silverstone in a chaotic Suzuka qualifying session interrupted by three red flags for massive crashes, one of which left Timo Glock injured.
Vettel dominated the session for Red Bull, setting the fastest time in all three segments and beating Toyota's Jarno Trulli and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton to pole.
The Brawns were fifth and seventh, with Rubens Barrichello ahead of Jenson Button, but their positions could come under threat if they are protested for setting their best Q2 times while yellow flags were out. However, after the session five drivers were penalized for not observing a yellow flag (see separate story).
The first two red flags occurred in Q2, starting when Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari plowed head–on into the Degner barriers after running wide on entry. The Spaniard was assisted out of his car but soon declared unhurt and cleared to race.
Then Glock had an even larger crash as he accelerated out of the final chicane – his Toyota understeering over the gravel at speed and spearing into the barriers.
The medical team carefully extracted Glock, who was conscious and moving in the cockpit, and he was removed from the scene on a stretcher. The German waved to the crowd as he was placed into an ambulance and is being taken to hospital by helicopter with pain in his back and left leg.
With the red flags having interrupted most drivers' Q2 flying laps, there was a last minute sprint to get through to Q3 – and this was also interrupted when Sebastien Buemi crashed on the exit of Spoon and deposited his Toro Rosso's front wing and other debris in the middle of the track as he limped back to the pits.
As yellow flags waved for that incident, both Brawns made last minute gains that got them into Q2 – to the displeasure of drivers like Renault's Fernando Alonso, who lifted on his last lap and ended up 12th and eliminated, along with Nico Rosberg (Williams) and Robert Kubica (BMW).
The Spoon incident was Buemi's second accident of the afternoon, as he had already spun backwards into the Degner tyre wall in Q1. Amazingly he got back to the pits, received a new rear wing, and rejoined in time to easily reach Q2, then qualified for Q3 before his second trip into the barriers.
Heikki Kovalainen had also spun at Degner in Q1, but regained control before hitting the wall. He was less fortunate on his first flying lap in Q3 – spinning into the barriers and causing the final red flag of this disjointed afternoon. The Finn was unhurt but will join Buemi on row five. After Kovalainen's incident the session finally proceeded without drama to the finish, with Vettel easily securing pole with his first flying lap.
Red Bull will have a car at both ends of the grid, with Mark Webber missing the session as he will need a new chassis following his practice crash.
Behind Trulli and Hamilton, Adrian Sutil showed Force India was firmly back on the pace by taking fourth, with BMW's Nick Heidfeld splitting the Brawns in sixth.
Kimi Raikkonen took eighth, while Giancarlo Fisichella was within half a second of his teammate's pace in Q1, but that left him back in 16th. It was a similar story for home driver Kazuki Nakajima, who only managed 17th for Williams.
Romain Grosjean (Renault) and Tonio Liuzzi (Force India) were the other Q1 departures, with the latter set to take a gearbox change penalty anyway, along with Webber.
REVISED STARTING GRID:
Pos Driver Team 1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 2. Trulli Toyota 3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 4. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber 5. Raikkonen Ferrari 6. Rosberg Williams-Toyota 7. Kubica BMW-Sauber 8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes * 9. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes *10. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari11. Button Brawn-Mercedes *12. Fisichella Ferrari13. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes **14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari *15. Nakajima Williams-Toyota16. Grosjean Renault17. Alonso Renault *18. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes **19. Glock Toyota ***20. Webber Red Bull-Renault **** Five-place grid penalty** Five-place grid penalty for changing gearbox*** Will use new chassis so will start from the pitlane