Sebastian Vettel took his third pole in four races, as Red Bull continued its stranglehold over qualifying in China.
Although many had tipped McLaren and Lewis Hamilton to take the top spot on the grid, it was Red Bull which came to the fore in the final segment qualifying.
Pole position will have been made all the sweeter for the Milton Keynes operation, which has had to deflect accusations over whether it is running a ‘ride-height’ adjustment system in the build up to this weekend’s event.
Vettel left it late to snatch pole by around 0.248 of a second from team-mate Mark Webber, who continued his strong pace from earlier this morning to deliver Red Bull’s second one-two in succession.
Fernando Alonso was able to overcome the engine issues which plagued him during Friday practice to take third for Ferrari. The Spaniard managed to edge out Nico Rosberg, who completed a blistering lap in the dying moments to relegate both McLaren drivers further down the grid.
McLaren and its drivers were left bitterly disappointed, having been on top for most of the weekend. Lewis Hamilton had set the pace in the opening two segements of qualifying but found himself sixth, after losing time on his final run. Jenson Button went one better than his team-mate, but was also powerless to stop Red Bull charge to the front.
Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher finished behind their team-mates in seventh and ninth respectively. The latter endured a nervy entry into Q3, just scraping into the top-ten shootout after a challenge from the Williams of Rubens Barrichello.
Robert Kubica (8th) continued his strong run of form for Renault, as did Force India’s Adrian Sutil who rounded off the top ten.
However, the session was a disaster for Sutil’s team-mate Tonio Liuzzi. The Italian became the first “high profile” casualty in Q1, after experiencing traffic on his fast lap.
Virgin’s Timo Glock took the honours for the new teams in nineteenth, while the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen suffered a spin at turn six on his way to twenty-first.
Despite the ominous pace of Red Bull, it continues to be difficult to predict a winner in tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix. Although Vettel sits pretty, the German will have to upset the odds, as no driver has yet won from pole this season, and with rain expected to feature tomorrow’s race is far from decided.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Vettel Red Bull 1:34.558 2. Webber Red Bull 1:34.806 3. Alonso Ferrari 1:34.913 4. Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.923 5. Button McLaren 1:34.979 6. Hamilton McLaren 1:35.034 7. Massa Ferrari 1:35.180 8. Kubica Renault 1:35.364 9. Schumacher Mercedes 1:35.646 10. Sutil Force India 1:35.963 Eliminated Q2: 11. Barrichello Williams 1:35.748 12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:36.047 13. Buemi Toro Rosso 1:36.149 14. Petrov Renault 1:36.311 15. Kobayashi Sauber 1:36.422 16. Hulkenberg Williams 1:36.647 17. de la Rosa Sauber 1:37.020 Eliminated Q1: 18. Liuzzi Force India 1:37.161 19. Glock Virgin 1:39.278 20. Trulli Lotus 1:39.399 21. Kovalainen Lotus 1:39.520 22. di Grassi Virgin 1:39.783 23. Senna HRT 1:40.469 24. Chandhok HRT 1:40.578