Sebastian Vettel claimed his third pole position in four races this season with another stunning late lap in qualifying at Shanghai.
The German will lead an all-Red Bull front row, continuing the team's 100 per cent pole record in 2010, with his team-mate Mark Webber 0.248 seconds slower in second place.
Vettel had held provisional pole on his first run, but was pipped by Webber's second attempt in Q3.
There was nothing to choose between them in the first two sectors on their last laps, but Vettel pulled out a margin in the last few corners and claimed pole again.
Fernando Alonso took third for Ferrari, four places but only 0.2s ahead of his team-mate Felipe Massa.
Q3 brought huge disappointment for Lewis Hamilton. Fastest in both Q1 and Q2, he could not muster a pole challenge when it mattered and will start only sixth, behind Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and his team-mate Jenson Button.
Michael Schumacher was back in ninth in the second Mercedes, between Renault's Robert Kubica and Force India's Adrian Sutil.
Rubens Barrichello almost got Williams into the top ten, only to be edged back down to 11th when Sutil completed his last lap moments later. Even so, Barrichello was within 0.033s of beating Schumacher to the final Q3 spot. His team-mate Nico Hulkenberg was only 16th, between the Saubers, having run wide at the final corner.
Jaime Alguersuari out-qualified Toro Rosso team-mate Sebastien Buemi as he equalled his career-best Formula 1 start in 12th.
Tonio Liuzzi was this week's high profile Q1 casualty, the Force India 0.111s away from making the Q2 cut. He ended up 18th on the grid, and blamed traffic delays for his loss of time.
After his morning crash it briefly seemed it might be Vitaly Petrov down among the new teams, but once up to speed in his repaired Renault, the Russian easily made Q2 and took 14th.
Lotus looked set to win the battle of the new teams until Timo Glock's last run put Virgin at the head of the tail-end pack by 0.117s over Jarno Trulli's Lotus. Heikki Kovalainen escaped a spectacular spin under braking for Turn 6 and qualified 21st in the second Lotus.
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:36.317 1:35.280 1:34.558
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:35.978 1:35.100 1:34.806
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:35.987 1:35.235 1:34.913
4. Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.952 1:35.134 1:34.923
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.122 1:35.443 1:34.979
6. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.641 1:34.928 1:35.034
7. Massa Ferrari 1:36.076 1:35.290 1:35.180
8. Kubica Renault 1:36.348 1:35.550 1:35.364
9. Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.484 1:35.715 1:35.646
10. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:36.671 1:35.665 1:35.963
11. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:36.664 1:35.748
12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.618 1:36.047
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.793 1:36.149
14. Petrov Renault 1:37.031 1:36.311
15. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.044 1:36.422
16. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:37.049 1:36.647
17. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.050 1:37.020
18. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:37.161
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.278
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:39.399
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:39.520
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.783
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:40.469
24. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:40.578
All Timing Unofficial