Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel set a scintillating lap to take his third pole position in three races in 2011 at the Chinese Grand Prix.
Jenson Button was second, 0.715 seconds behind the championship leader, with McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton third.
Nico Rosberg took fourth place on the grid for Mercedes, while Force India's Paul di Resta will start eighth.
After electrical problems in practice, Red Bull's Mark Webber was eliminated in qualifying and will start 18th.
For the third race running, McLaren were the only team who could get close to champions Red Bull.
McLaren kept faith with their upgrades - which included a refined exhaust system, floor and front wing - for qualifying despite niggling problems during Friday practice.