Tom Luthi heads up the second row of the grid for Interwetten-Paddock starting his Suter in fourth while Takaaki Nakagami made late improvements to snatch fifth for Italtrans.
Returning Randy Krummenacher qualified sixth for Team Switzerland, who will not compete next season as they were not allocated a place in the class.
Top rookie Johann Zarco finds himself at the front of row three in seventh for JIR (Motobi) followed by
Andrea Iannone for Speed Master (Speed Up) in eighth.
Also on the third row is Ant West, who continued his form from the wet Sepang podium for QMMF Speed Up to claim his best qualifying so far - despite a crash in the closing minutes at his home circuit.
Espargaro's team-mate Tito Rabat starts tenth, with the third member of the Pons squad, Axel Pons, in 13th.
Bradley Smith missed much of qualifying after a fast crash. The Briton walked away uninjured but with a heavily damaged Tech 3 bike, leaving him 15th.
Toni Elias, now confirmed at Blusens on a Kalex for next season, placed his Italtrans in 18th on the grid.
Winner of the last two Australian Moto2 grands prix and victor in Sepang, Alex de Angelis, fell from his Forward Racing FTR late in the session and suffered a possible hand injury. He qualified down in 22nd.
After his podium in Malaysia, Federal Oil Gresini's Gino Rea will start just 24th.