Lewis Hamilton said he prioritized the race over qualifying in China after saving tires in Q3.
The McLaren driver saw a potential podium in Malaysia turn into eighth place as he struggled with tire wear a week ago, so this time chose to only make one Q3 run. He qualified third, just behind teammate Jenson Button.
"We are in quite a strong [tire] position: the options I just qualified on, a new set of options and a new set of primes and a decent set of options as well," Hamilton said. "I just wanted to increase chances for the race because that is what counts."
He added: "The strategists say it is quite simple but the race is never simple, you have the start, all the stops you want to do, and looking after tires. It will be tricky again tomorrow but I want to put myself in a decent spot. I feel I am in position to have a good opportunity in the race. I didn't have the best opportunity last race."
Although Sebastian Vettel put Red Bull on pole again by 0.7 second, Hamilton said he was satisfied with how McLaren was progressing.
"We are doing our best to catch up, and it's encouraging to be on the second or third row in the first two races considering where we were during winter testing," he said. "It is clear since 2009 that [Red Bull] have had a ridiculously fast car and it's a great job done by the team and Sebastian. We are pushing as hard as we can to close the gap. It is possible but it will take several races to get to where they are, and I am sure they will take many steps forward.
"We'll continue the chase and hope our development rate is at least as good as theirs, if not better."