Sebastian Vettel set himself up to continue his seemingly inexorable march toward a fourth consecutive Formula One drivers’ championship by taking pole position for the Korean Grand Prix. In his Red Bull the man who leads the standings by 60 points was 0.218 seconds quicker than Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in Saturday’s qualifying, with Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber third. A 10-plae grid penalty assessed for the Australian after getting a lift back to the pits last time out in Singapore means that Nico Rosberg moves up to third ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. Vettel’s closest challenger, Fernando Alonso, will now start from fifth, alongside his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa.

Hamilton had been quickest in both of Friday’s practice session but was unable to match the time set by Vettel in his first run of the final section of qualifying. The pole was Vettel’s sixth of the season, more than anyone else, and the 42nd of his glory laden career, which looks set to imminently yield a further championship. Vettel explained that he was happy with the performance boost achieved between overnight.

“It was close today. I had a very good lap in Q3 on my first attempt and thought I would find it hard to do better, he said, according to the official Formula One website.

“Mercedes were strong and seem to be comfortable in the middle sector. We’re good in Sector one this year which is a surprise as that is mostly straights. We improved the car from yesterday as I wasn’t entirely happy with it after the second practice.”

Hamilton was equally delighted to take second and be competitive with Red Bull despite their obvious edge.

“I'm really happy with second position today as it felt like I got everything out of the car today,” he explained. “The guys have done a great job to get the package as it is here. We came into the weekend knowing that Red Bull had an advantage, so to be as close as I am in terms of performance is a real positive. Hopefully we have closed the gap a little bit.”

Alonso needs a minor miracle to close the gap to Vettel in the championship, with just five races left this season after Sunday. Indeed, the Spaniard stated that there was much work to be done if Ferrari is to enjoy their customary improvement in race pace compared to their modest performance in qualifying.

“I am not surprised at the outcome of this qualifying session, because in terms of pure performance, Saturday is always difficult for us and will continue to be so until the end of the season,” he said. “Usually, on Sunday, things go better and our aim is always to get to the podium, as has happened in recent races. This weekend seems harder than usual, because while up until now we have always had a good race pace, both yesterday and today we suffered on the long runs and that means we must absolutely improve for tomorrow.”

Sauber enjoyed a solid qualifying session, with Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez set to start in eighth and ninth, respectively, ahead of a disappointed Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren duo Sergio Perez and Jenson Button. With rain predicted to fall on Sunday, it could be an eventful afternoon in Yeongam.

Where to watch: The Formula One Korean Grand Prix will get underway at 2 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra