Sebastian Vettel put Red Bull on pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in a crash-hit qualifying session on Saturday, with championship leader Jenson Button starting in seventh place.
The German will share the front row with Italian Jarno Trulli in a Toyota with Britain's outgoing World champion Lewis Hamilton third for McLaren alongside Adrian Sutil for Force India.
Button can win the Formula One title on Sunday if he scores five points more than his Brawn GP team mate Rubens Barrichello. The veteran Brazilian, a winner at Suzuka with Ferrari in 2003, qualified fifth.
"It was a tough session. No one got any practice yesterday, very little this morning," Button, who is 25 points clear of Vettel with three races remaining, told the BBC.
"Three red flags is very unusual so I hope everyone is OK. I think we've got a reasonable amount of fuel on board ... I'm not looking at Sebastian really."
All of the top three drivers had team mates who crashed, with the three-part qualifying halted on three separate occasions.
Toyota's Timo Glock had the most serious accident, plunging into the barriers at the final corner only hours after he had been passed fit to race.
The German, who missed Friday's rain-hit practice because he had a heavy cold and fever, waved and gave a thumbs-up sign as he was extracted from the car but was then flown on to hospital for further checks.
A spokeswoman for the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said Glock was complaining of back pains and had a wound in his left leg.
Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber did not take part in qualifying and will start from the pit lane in last place after damaging his car in a crash in the morning's final practice.
McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen went into the tyre wall at the Degner corner in the final phase of qualifying.
Toro Rosso's Spanish rookie Jaime Alguersuari brought out the first of two red flags in the space of 11 minutes when he ploughed into the tyre wall in the second phase. He was unhurt.
Apart from the Brawn drivers, only Vettel remains in championship contention and he needs to take his third win of the season after his fourth pole of the year.
Red Bull must also score seven points more than Brawn on Sunday to prevent that team from taking the constructors' championship.