Sebastian Vettel proved that Red Bull Racing had no need for a trick ride height system by claiming his third pole in four races just days after the FIA moved to outlaw any such technology.
RBR had been the subject of much speculation that it had been running a means of optimising its car for both light fuel qualifying and heavy fuel racing, but Vettel showed that there was nothing that could stop its domination of the former by pulling out a stunning last gasp lap to deny team-mate Mark Webber and claim pole position for Sunday's race around the Shanghai International Circuit.
Having appeared to struggle slightly through the early part of the weekend, the German bounced back with his first lap in the final ten-minute shoot-out, and then put together an even better effort after Webber had toppled him from P1. Even though there were a few minor errors, which only served to suggest that he could have gone even quicker, Vettel still managed to come home over two-tenths inside the Australian's benchmark and set up a 1-2 lock-out for the Milton Keynes team.
Webber had already seen off the threat of free practice pacesetters McLaren and Mercedes by a narrower margin, after both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button got to within hundredths of Vettel's provisional pole time, but the Aussie could only marvel at his team-mate's final effort - and no doubt plan some revenge for the first corner lunge that swapped their positions on the opening lap and gave Vettel victory in Malaysia a fortnight ago.
While Red Bull's performance emphasised the team's insistence that it had not benefited from trick ride height systems in the opening three rounds, the rest of the field had to find new excuses for continuing to play catch-up, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso coming closest, but admitting that he had wrung all that the F10 currently had to offer from the red machine.
The Spaniard nevertheless also defeated the Mercedes-powered quartet that had dominated on Friday, edging the works team's Nico Rosberg to the inside of row two by 0.01secs. Rosberg, meanwhile, comfortably saw off team-mate Michael Schumacher, who had been lucky to make it through to the final phase, and admitted that he was still struggling to extract every ounce of performance from his W01.
Jenson Button wasn't that far from Alonso either, but reported that he was having trouble managing his tyres, with either not enough heat in them at the start of his flying lap or too much by the end. The Briton still managed to out-qualify Lewis Hamilton for the third time in four attempts, as the 2008 world champion also admitted to having exhausted the potential of his car. Both McLaren drivers struggled with false neutrals, but the problem appeared confined to the low speed in and out laps, rather than occurring at race pace.
Felipe Massa was unable to match Ferrari team-mate Alonso, and the tenth of a second that splits them means that the Brazilian lines up only seventh, sharing row four with Renault's Robert Kubica, with Adrian Sutil outside Schumacher at the foot of the top ten;
It was the younger German who had pushed his countryman to the brink of an early exit in Q2, having vaulted into ninth spot with his final lap of the session. Prior to that, he had lost his foothold in the top ten as Williams' Rubens Barrichello improved his earlier effort. Sutil's gain was the Brazilian's loss, however, and, with no time for another lap, Schumacher survived another assault from his former team-mate by three-hundredths of a second.