McLaren's Lewis Hamilton beat team-mate Jenson Button at the Malaysian Grand Prix to take his second pole position in two races this year.
Hamilton was 0.149 seconds quicker than Button, who nudged Mercedes' Michael Schumacher down to third.
Red Bull's Mark Webber starts fourth ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who used the harder tyre in an attempt to boost his race hopes.
Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen was fifth, but will start 10th after a penalty.
Raikkonen's team had to change his gearbox after discovering it had been damaged in the previous race in Australia last weekend and would not last a grand prix distance.
Hamilton's qualifying followed the same pattern as in Australia last weekend - a blistering first lap that no one, not even he, could beat on their final runs.
"It's been a good weekend so far," he said. "I don't know if it's definitely the best place to start - it's a long haul down to Turn One.
"There will be a lot of strategy options. The key is looking after your tyres. Hopefully we'll have a car that's in a better position for the race [than in Australia, where Button beat him to the victory] and I look forward to that."
Button added: "Lewis did a great lap at the start of Q3, I got closer, but it wasn't to be.
"The Mercedes is renowned, especially Michael, for getting good starts so it's going to be an interesting Turn One."
Mercedes had been expected to battle for pole, but Schumacher said third was "the maximum" the team could have achieved.
The seven-time champion's team-mate Nico Rosberg will be disappointed to be down in eighth place, behind Raikkonen's team-mate Romain Grosjean, after he and Schumacher were evenly matched all weekend.
It is Schumacher's best qualifying result since he returned to F1 in 2010 following three years in retirement.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner admitted that his team did not have the pace to challenge at the front over a single qualifying lap and that they had decided to try a different strategy with Vettel.
Horner said: "Hopefully that will work out. The harder tyre is slightly more durable; it's just a different strategy."
Ferrari continued to struggle, but did improve their performance from the first race of the season, where neither car managed to make it into the top 10 on the grid.
Fernando Alonso sneaked through, taking ninth place ahead of Sauber's Sergio Perez, but team-mate Felipe Massa was left down in 12th place.
However, after being provided with a new car following his poor performance in Melbourne, the Brazilian improved significantly - he was 0.352secs slower than Alonso in second qualifying, as opposed to a second in Australia.
Alonso said that he had suffered with a problem with his Kers power-boost system on his only run in final qualifying.
"I don't think it cost me any places but it would definitely have made the gap to pole look more realistic," he said after ending up more than 1.3 seconds off Hamilton's time.
Scot Paul di Resta out-qualified Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who had beaten him in Australia, with 14th place - Hulkenberg was 16th.
Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne was the unlucky man outside the three backmarker teams Caterham, Marussia and HRT, who failed to make it into the second session.
The Frenchman was more than 0.6secs slower than team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, whom he finished right behind in Australia last weekend. Vergne said he had ruined his lap when he locked a front wheel.
After failing to get either car into the race in Australia, HRT managed to get both drivers under the mark required to qualify.
Veteran Pedro de la Rosa was 0.641secs quicker than team-mate Narain Karthikeyan, but both cars were within 107% of the fastest time in the first session that is needed to automatically qualify.