For the second successive weekend, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button maintained McLaren’s excellent qualifying form this season with a front row lock-out at Sepang.
Michael Schumacher continues to impress with his best qualifying performance since making his Formula One comeback for Mercedes by taking third.
While defending world champion Sebastian Vettel elated to run the harder compound Pirelli and will start the Malaysian Grand Prix in fifth for Red Bull.
As was the case in Australia, Hamilton’s first flying lap in Q3 was enough to secure the top grid slot, as his one minute, 36.219 seconds proved unbeatable.
Button was second fastest after those runs, but was pushed back by Schumacher. Mercedes had left it late in Q2 and looked in danger of being eliminated before surging into the top ten, and then went for just one run in Q3.
That meant Schumacher was back in the pits by the time Button launched his retaliation, the McLaren edging the Mercedes off the front row by just 0.023 seconds. Schumacher beat team-mate Nico Rosberg by five places and a little under three tenths.
The Q3 battle was incredibly close, with just a small margin of four tenths covering pole to eighth position.
In fact, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen set times that were identical to one-thousandths of a second – but the Australian claims the place ahead as he set the time first. Kimi’s grid penalty means he will start the race in tenth.
Red Bull was not a pole contender again, despite Mark Webber setting the quickest lap in Q1. He will start in fourth while team-mate Vettel gambled on the hard compound for his second Q3 run, meaning he will start the race on the more durable tyres.
After topping the time sheets in Q2, Kimi Raikkonen qualified his Lotus in a superb fifth but will drop down to tenth following his gearbox penalty. His team-mate Romain Grosjean was sixth quickest.
Against the team’s own expectations, Fernando Alonso got Ferrari into Q3 – although he could only manage to beat Sergio Perez’s Sauber to ninth.
Felipe Massa was closer to Alonso’s pace than he had been for most of the Melbourne weekend but he missed the Q2 cut and was P12.
Several of the underdog stars of Melbourne qualifying fell back into the midfield in Malaysia.
Pastor Maldonado briefly got into the top ten despite an early trip through the gravel in Q2, but he was pushed back to P11 as the Mercedes delivered their late laps. Maldonado will start two positions ahead of Williams team-mate Bruno Senna.
There were no Force Indias or Toro Rossos in Q3 compared to last weekend.
The closely-matched Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg claimed P14 and P16 for Force India, just 0.013 seconds apart and split by Daniel Ricciardo, whose Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne locked-up in Q1, flat-spotted a tyre and consigned himself to P18.
Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber brought up the rear of the Q2 pack.
Both HRTs made the 107 per cent cut this time around, and will not even start last on the grid, as Heikki Kovalainen’s penalty for passing under the safety car in Australia will drop the Caterham from P19 to last.
So a fantastic result for McLaren and Lewis Hamilton. The MP4-27 certainly has the edge over their rivals and thanks to the Mercedes engine; the car is so fast down the Sepang straights.
Can Hamilton takes his first win of the 2012 season or will Button score his second successive triumph? What about Schumacher? The seven-time world champion has a great opportunity to go for his 92nd Grand Prix victory on Sunday.
Qualifying times from Sepang:
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.219s
2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.368s
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m36.391s
4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.461s
5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.634s
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m36.658s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m36.664s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.566s
9. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.698s
10. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m36.461s*
11. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m37.589s
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m37.731s
13. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m37.841s
14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m37.877s
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.883s
16. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m37.890s
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.069s
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.077s
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m39.567s
20. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.903s
21. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.250s
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m42.914s
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m43.655s
24. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m39.306s**
107 per cent time: 1m43.974s
*Five-place grid penalty for changing gearbox
**Five-place grid penalty for passing under the safety car