Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole position with Mercedes in a Chinese Grand Prix qualifying session dominated by tire strategy. Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus will join Hamilton on the front row ahead of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel chose not to set a time in Q3 and can start ninth on medium tires, while most of those ahead must use the fragile softs for their first stint. However, his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber had a disastrous session, as a fuel pressure problem stranded him in Q2 and he will start dead last on Sunday.
With the soft tires only good for one flying lap and expected to quickly fade in the race, qualifying was all about rubber conservation. Q3 duly became a one-lap shootout in the final minute as all 10 contenders poured on the track at once at the last gasp.
Raikkonen was first to take provisional pole with a 1m34.761s. Several likely challengers failed to match that, but Hamilton came through on a 1m34.484s to give Mercedes pole at Shanghai for a second straight year.
Alonso ended his run of being outqualified by Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa as he took third, two places ahead of the Brazilian. Nico Rosberg split them in the second Mercedes. Romain Grosjean was sixth for Lotus, followed by Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was one of the stars of qualifying as he got Toro Rosso into Q3 for the first time this year, beating teammate Jean-Eric Vergne by 0.9 second in Q2.
Jenson Button joined Vettel in opting for medium and did a slow lap for eighth, while Vettel and Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg chose not to do Q3 flying laps at all.
Webber ended qualifying 14th after a fuel pressure problem forced him to park his car on the circuit in Q2. But the Australian ultimately ended up at the back of the grid because it meant Red Bull could not provide the mandatory fuel sample for the FIA.
Both Force Indias narrowly missed out on the top 10, with Paul di Resta just 0.029sec off in 11th. teammate Adrian Sutil was behind Sergio Perez's McLaren in 13th.
The tire issue even neutered Q1, which did not feature any track action until halfway through.
Toro Rosso attempted to get through on mediums, but had to make a late switch to softs as both drivers were at risk of missing the cut. Vergne and Ricciardo's improvements meant Valtteri Bottas's Williams and Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber were the two midfield cars ousted.
Jules Bianchi had been ahead of the Toro Rossos before they moved to softs, but had to settle for his usual 19th for Marussia, still comfortably faster than his back of the grid peers.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.484s
2. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m34.761s + 0.277
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.788s + 0.304
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.861s + 0.377
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m34.933s + 0.449
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m35.364s + 0.880
7. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m35.998s + 1.514
8. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 2m05.673s + 31.189
9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault no time
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari no time
Q2 cut-off time: 1m36.261s Gap **
11. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.287s + 1.209s
12. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.314s + 1.236s
13. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m36.405s + 1.327s
14. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.679s + 1.601s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m37.139s + 2.061s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.199s + 2.121s
Q1 cut-off time: 1m37.508s Gap *
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m37.769s + 1.976
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.990s + 2.197
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m38.780s + 2.987
20. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.537s + 3.744
21. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m39.614s + 3.821
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m39.660s + 3.867
107% time: 1m42.489s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2