McLaren continued their remarkable turnaround with Lewis Hamilton splitting the Red Bulls and putting his silver bullet on the front row.
Hamilton was a tenth quicker than Mark Webber but still seven tenths down on pole sitter Sebastian Vettel. Teammate and 2009 World Champion Jenson Button was fourth.
A few weeks ago McLaren were off the pace and looked set for a season of frustration but a bold redesign of the front wing and exhaust system has fired them back into contention.
And Hamilton is delighted with the team's efforts and revealed he could have gone even quicker but for a KERS failure which also affected his car balance.
He said: “I was really happy with my lap today. The car felt fantastic, and I owe it all to the guys back at the factory, in the design office and those building components.”
“They need to give themselves a huge pat on the back. It was a brave decision to make such a dramatic change to the car, and a superb effort to deliver that change.”
“However, although I was pleased with my performance today, my KERS Hybrid stopped working halfway round my final lap – I had 40 per cent left that I couldn't deploy – but that would have been worth only an extra couple of tenths.”
“We still have some work to do, but I think the race is winnable from here – and I'll be giving Sebastian [Vettel] the race of his life tomorrow!”
And teammate Button acknowledged he didn't have the pace in Q3 but is encouraged for the race tomorrow at a circuit which he won at from fourth on the grid 12 months ago.
He finished: “So we didn't get the most out of our package in Q3, but it's nonetheless a massive step forward from what we had in testing, so we should all be very happy with what we've done so far.
“I'm really looking forward to tomorrow: I had a good race from fourth last year, and I think I can have a good race from fourth this year, too. We ought to be positive and think we can challenge for the win tomorrow.”