Vettel, Webber lead China GP qualifying

SHANGHAI -- Sebastian Vettel led qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, narrowly edging his teammate Mark Webber on Saturday to give Red Bull its fourth straight pole position of the Formula One season.

It is the first time a team had taken four consecutive pole positions since Ferrari claimed the first four in 2007. Vettel qualifying a quarter of a second ahead of Webber.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso qualified impressively to take third, while Mercedes' Nico Rosberg will start from fourth on Sunday, when rain is forecast.

McLaren pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton disappointed in qualifying and will start from fifth and sixth, ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Renault's Robert Kubica. Michael Schumacher of Mercedes and Adrian Sutil of Force India rounded out the top 10.

Red Bull's monopolization of the front row put the team in a strong position to record back-to-back 1-2 finishes, both from race-to-race this season and year-to-year in China.

"We are proving we have a very fast car, independent of the circuit type," Vettel said. "We always seem to be up there."

Alonso's strong qualifying performance, only one-tenth of a second behind Webber, augured well for Ferrari, given the car has shown its best in races rather than qualifying this season.

"We know the race pace is better for us," Alonso said. "We feel more confident with fuel in the car and on the long runs."

One major factor that could upset the top qualifiers on race day is the forecast rain.

"It will be raining tomorrow, its just a question of when," Vettel said. "No matter, dry, wet, we should be well armed for tomorrow."

Vettel's win in China last season was achieved in the wet, when the race started behind a safety car.

Hamilton was the quickest in Friday practice in his McLaren, and again in the first two sessions of qualifying, but struggled when it mattered most in the third session.

"We should have had pole today, but I don't know where it went," Hamilton said. "I'm puzzled, I don't know where the time went."

The contrast in driving styles between the smooth Button and the hard-charging Hamilton means a similar set-up on the two McLaren vehicles will rarely please both drivers.

That proved the case Saturday, when Button complained of poor balance and graining tires in the first two sessions of qualifying, while Hamilton was flying atop the timesheets. That reversed in Q3, when Hamilton's car began bottoming and contacting the track while Button's car improved, but too late for him to make a tilt at the front row of the grid.

"It's a bit frustrating that it took us that long in qualifying to get the balance right," Button said.

"It's probably going to rain [Sunday], but the set-up we have for the car is probably good for the wet conditions."