Lewis Hamilton took his third consecutive pole position of the season as he pipped Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg to the top spot in China by the slimmest of margins.
Hamilton has looked flawless all weekend and carried that form into qualifying, though he was made to sweat in Q3 when Rosberg crossed just 0.042s down on his 1:35.782 benchmark. The Mercedes front-row lock out was expected, with Ferrari having to turn its attention from the Silver Arrows to the Martini-liveried Williams in qualifying. Having had a quiet practice, Williams was back in the hunt for the second row and looked to have secured it behind Mercedes, only for Vettel to snatch third with his last run.
One important consideration was tyres, given Mercedes' costly decision to use a set of prime tyres in Q1 in Malaysia - a decision which hampered the team in the race. There was no repeat this time around as Mercedes set the Q1 times it needed on medium tyres while all its rivals, including Ferrari, used fresh softs. It means Mercedes has saved a set of soft tyres for the race, something which may be crucial for strategy and nullifying the threat from Ferrari on Sunday.
Having had such a promising weekend on his longer runs, Kimi Raikkonen had to settle for sixth position, meaning the Finn will have to dispatch the Williams early if he wants to take the fight to Mercedes. Behind that, Daniel Ricciardo qualified seventh ahead of Romain Grosjean, while the Sauber's of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson rounded off the top ten.
Daniil Kvyat was the biggest-name casualty in Q2 as he dropped out of the session in 12th. Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz also failed to make it through the session, while Sergio Perez did well just to make the top 15 in the Force India.
McLaren had high hopes of making Q2 - and had even finished two tenths off 10th in FP3 - but both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso dropped out of the first qualifying session. There was only 0.004s between the two former world champions, who finished two tenths off the time required to make it into the next session. It will be a blow for McLaren after talking up the visible progress it has made since the Malaysian Grand Prixm but the gains they have made might be more obvious in Sunday's race. Nico Hulkenberg was the other man to drop out of Q1 despite having been quicker than team-mate Perez in the morning session.
Unsurprisingly the Manors finished at the foot of the standings, the first time both its drivers have completed a qualifying session. Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi qualified within the 107% mark required to race on Sunday.