The Red Bull driver starts from the front again after another masterclass, while the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are second and third.
More of the same in Shanghai with Sebastian Vettel on pole
Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver and winner here last year, would have harboured hopes of preventing Vettel from claiming a third successive pole when he recorded the quickest lap of the day.
But then Vettel illustrated why he is the overwhelming favourite to win back-to-back titles this season by clocking a blistering lap of one minute 33.706 seconds.
Button described the pace of the German as “phenomenal” as Vettel stole an eight-metre lead on second-place on the Briton in the race to the first corner today. The McLaren-Mercedes driver trailed the pole-sitter by more than 0.7secs – a huge gap that even Vettel admitted surprised him.
Yet there was no fist-pumping and little forefinger-raising from Vettel, as displayed last week when he secured first place on the grid during Malaysian qualifying.
Instead, yesterday under a dull, smoggy sky, the German remained stationed patiently in parc ferme before ejecting only to speak of how “it is a threat to feel too good”.
“Obviously, we did it again, but I try to remind myself and the team that every time is tough. It all starts from zero again; people forget that,” Vettel added.
The 23-year-old, since becoming Formula One’s youngest world champion in Abu Dhabi last November, has shown maturity to lead in 109 of the 114 laps comprising the 2011 season so far as he and Red Bull have dominated the season, to date.
He has – unsurprisingly given that statistic – collected maximum points in both Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur and now chases the feat of being the first driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to win the opening three races of a season.
Vettel and Button watched the remainder of the third qualifying session from their garages after none of the remaining cars threatened. Lewis Hamilton completed only one run in the final session and will start third at the Shanghai International Circuit this afternoon.
The conservation of the all-important rubber, Vettel said, is vital once again.
“The main thing is that you know your tyres are in good shape and I think we did a very good job,” Vettel said. “We did what was necessary.
“I had a bit of a mistake in the run I had in Q2, but I was confident and in Q3 we were able to improve by quite a lot. We can be as happy as we can be with the car, with everything around us and we have reason to feel good.”
Hamilton blamed his eighth-place finish in Malaysia on poor tyre management and said the result showed “how important it is to have fresh tyres during the race”.
Yesterday, he was able to preserve a set and believes the strategy puts him in “quite a strong position”.
“I just tried to increase the chances for the race as that is where it actually counts,” said the 2008 world champion.
“The [tyre] strategy is quite simple, but obviously the race is never simple. It’s going to be very tricky, but I really wanted to put myself in a position to have a good opportunity in the race.”