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Nico Rosberg beat Lewis Hamilton to pole at the Japanese Grand Prix as Daniil Kvyat walked away from a massive crash in his Red Bull.
The Russian's shunt, as he rolled his Red Bull after putting a wheel on the grass on the run to the Hairpin, ended Hamilton's chances of taking pole.
Hamilton has been just 0.076 seconds slower than Rosberg on their first laps despite a big mistake at the Hairpin.
Kvyat's crash stopped the session before any driver could do a final lap.
The Russian smashed into the barriers after spinning following his mistake on his final qualifying lap.
The car was launched into the air, rolled over, and lost a large proportion of its parts as it bounced to a halt.
Kvyat told the team over the radio that he was OK, but he was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks, as is mandatory in the event of a heavy crash.
Afterwards he said: "It wasn't very pleasant, but I am OK. I am disappointed in myself."
It was yet another example of how the great Suzuka circuit can bite hard if a driver makes even the smallest error, one of the many reasons why it is regarded as arguably the most challenging track in the world.
Williams's Valtteri Bottas qualified third, ahead of the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, a dominant winner at the last race in Singapore six days ago.
The second Williams and Ferrari cars, of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen were fifth and sixth ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
Mercedes back to their best
Mercedes had an unusually off-form weekend in Singapore, well over a second off the pace of Ferrari.
The team have said they believe they made mistakes in the set-up of the car, but they have been back at their dominant best around the fast swerves of Suzuka.
Rosberg, who beat Hamilton in qualifying for only the second time in 13 races this year, said: "Very happy, great day today, and a good comeback for the team.
"It's fantastic after Singapore to be back to our usual strength. Pretty much nailed my laps today. Really pleased with the way it went."
Hamilton said he felt he might have been able to get pole had the session not been stopped prematurely.
"The second lap was looking good," he said. "The first lap I lost a bit of time in Turn 11 and the last corner. Nico is driving very well this weekend but I was feeling pretty good on that last lap."
Dark and light at McLaren
Jenson Button was knocked out in first qualifying, taking 16th place.
Button complained that his team had not told him to use a specific engine setting on his first run, which meant he lacked hybrid boost for half his first flying lap in the first part of qualifying.
The 2009 world champion, whose future is the subject of speculation, was then unable to complete his final lap because Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso had stopped at the chicane. Verstappen was later given a three-place grid penalty for parking in an unsafe position, and will start Sunday's race from 18th.
Both McLarens were on their final laps at the time and Button was 0.1secs down on team-mate Fernando Alonso's own final lap before both had to slow in the middle sector as a result of the caution flags around the stationary Toro Rosso.
Alonso's first lap was fast enough to get him through into the second part of qualifying and took 14th, although he will move up a place as a result of a three-place grid penalty for Force India's Nico Hulkenberg for causing a collision in the last race in Singapore.
Alonso was only 0.5secs off getting through into the final top 10 shoot-out.
"I told the guys that lap was probably the best I did around here all my career. I could put 100 sets of tyres on and not do better," the Spaniard said.