Sebastian Vettel [ Images ] gave his Formula One title chances a significant boost by claiming pole position for champions Red Bull at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix [ Images ] on Saturday.
The 23-year-old German's 10th pole of 2010, and a record-equalling 15th in a single season for his team, left him in the driving seat for a race he won last year and will probably have to win again to become the sport's youngest champion.
Ferrari's [ Images ] Alonso, the Spaniard who is eight points ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber [ Images ] and 15 clear of Vettel, hauled himself to third place in the closing seconds under floodlights.
Australian Webber will start fifth, behind McLaren's outgoing title-holder Jenson Button [ Images ] in fourth, leaving him with an uphill battle to become his country's first champion since Alan Jones 30 years ago.
"It was a tight session so now we are looking forward to tomorrow and see what happens," said Vettel, looking forward to the unprecedented final four-way showdown for the title at the anti-clockwise Yas Marina circuit.
"Ten poles in qualifying I think is a great effort and shows how good our car is."
Alonso, who need only finish second in the daylight-to-darkness race to become Formula One's youngest triple champion regardless of who is ahead of him on the track, was also content.
"Third place is good for us," said the 29-year-old, with the King of Spain and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo among the VIP audience. "We just need one more day.
"We know the situation, we know the four contenders. Anything can happen in the race."
Hamilton returned to the front row for the first time since Belgium in August.
"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain so we are quite chilled and happy," said the 2008 world champion from Britain.
"I'm just here to enjoy myself and enjoy driving the car."
Red Bull have already won the constructors' title after finishing one-two in Brazil [ Images ] last weekend.