Sebastian Vettel went quickest in final practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as he set the scene perfectly to try to secure his fourth consecutive pole position at Suzuka.
The German, a two-time winner in Japan, moved to the top of the times in the dying seconds, outpacing team-mate Mark Webber to secure a Red Bull one-two ahead of qualifying.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa was third quickest, albeit over half a second off Vettel's pace, with Michael Schumacher fourth in the Mercedes and Sergio Perez fifth in the Sauber ahead of team-mate Kamui Kobayashi.
The McLarens of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton wound up eighth and 13th respectively, but both men were hindered by traffic on their final flying laps. Championship leader Fernando Alonso was 11th fastest.
The day welcomed the drivers with a clear sky and high temperatures, the circuit reaching 36 degrees Celsius ahead of the start of the 60 minutes.
Nico Rosberg set the early benchmark seven minutes into the session with a lap of 1m43.4s, the German posting the first proper laptime on his next round with a 1m35.1s.
Team-mate Schumacher was the next man to complete a full lap, going quicker than Rosberg by nearly a second to take the top spot 10 minutes in.
Schumacher's time remained unbeaten for some 10 minutes before Pastor Maldonado became the first driver to lap in the 1m33s 20 minutes into the session.
Button moved to the top of the times just a minute after that in the McLaren, posting a 1m33.6s, but his time was bettered by 0.052 seconds an instant later by his team-mate Hamilton, despite the Briton locking up his front left tyre at the hairpin.
Hamilton stayed on top until Vettel completed his first flying lap, the Red Bull driver going quickest by over three tenths of a second when the session was about to reach the halfway point.
Nico Hulkenberg's day came to an early finish with 20 minutes to go after the German lost the rear of his car at the second Degner curve, crashing into the barriers and damaging the front wing and the front left corner.
It was the second accident for Force India this weekend after team-mate Paul di Resta damaged his car on Friday afternoon.
After the track was cleared, Schumacher was the first driver to try the soft Pirelli tyres to move into first place with 15 minutes left. Vettel improved his time moments later despite running on used, harder rubber, although it was not enough to relegate his compatriot.
Kimi Raikkonen, who had a troubled practice on Friday, seemed to have problems again this morning, the Finn not posting a time until the 45-minute mark as he struggled with his car's handling. He finished down in 12th.
With six minutes left, Button kicked off the final rush to try the softer rubber, the McLaren driver having to abort his first lap after finding a slow Schumacher at the 130R corner.
Hamilton was also unable to complete a proper flyer after a big scare when the Briton found Marussia's Charles Pic cruising ahead of the final chicane as he came flying out of 130R.
Webber did finish his lap a minute later to move into first with a lap of 1m32.371s, as Vettel went second quickest, also using the soft tyres, the German finding traffic on his lap.
Vettel went for another lap and outpaced his team-mate by 0.235s to secure the fastest time as the chequered flag dropped.
Apart from Hulkenberg, the man in the most trouble was HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, who damaged his car's new floor when going off track. He missed part of the session as the team worked on it.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.136 16
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.371s + 0.235 19
3. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m32.824s + 0.688 12
4. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m32.918s + 0.782 22
5. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m32.920s + 0.784 18
6. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m32.924s + 0.788 14
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m33.008s + 0.872 20
8. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.025s + 0.889 15
9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m33.094s + 0.958 16
10. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m33.160s + 1.024 15
11. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m33.184s + 1.048 13
12. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m33.224s + 1.088 14
13. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.56$s + 1.433 13
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.722s + 1.586 17
15. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m33.899s + 1.763 22
16. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m33.984s + 1.848 18
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m34.023s + 1.887 18
18. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m34.369s + 2.233 11
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m35.568s + 3.432 18
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m36.355s + 4.219 17
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m36.389s + 4.253 11
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m36.517s + 4.381 17
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m36.649s + 4.513 11
24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m36.875s + 4.739 15
All Timing Unofficial