All the drivers were running in an element of the unknown after Friday’s two free practice sessions were all but wiped out by smog and rain.
The grid managed some dry running on Saturday morning but qualifying was nevertheless difficult and Antonio Giovinazzi suffered, crashing his Sauber into the wall at the end of Q1.
But when the business end of qualifying came around Lewis Hamilton hooked up a magnificent lap and pipped Sebastian Vettel to top spot.
However, the Brit conceded that if the race is wet, there are not many knowns for the team except that Ferrari will be hot on their tail.
Lewis Hamilton waves at spectators after taking pole for the Chinese Grand Prix
“Tomorrow is going to be an unusual day,” Hamilton said.
“I heard it’s going to be wet to start off and I haven’t driven the wet tyre yet this season so that’s going to be fun to experience the bigger car and wider tyres for the first time.
“I did an out-lap yesterday on the extreme wets but it was very slow so tomorrow will be a real lesson for me if it is wet.
“The Ferraris have a very strong car and there is a step up in the race pace and how they treat their tyres, especially when it’s warm.
“But we've worked hard to understand our car a little bit better and I think it’s going to be close between which will offer one of the most exciting times for a long time.”
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel finished 1st and 2nd in qualifying
Valtteri Bottas was just one thousandth of a second away from locking out the front row for Mercedes while Kimi Raikkonen, who once again struggled with understeer as he did in Australia, was another three tenths back in fourth.
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And Hamilton revealed that he spent the whole qualifying sessions building up to his fastest lap in the knowledge that the Maranello would not be far away in Q3.
“The Ferraris have looked so fast through practice this morning and through each qualifying session,” Hamilton added.
“We knew it was going to be close and it was going to mean that we had to pull out all of the stops with a perfect lap.
“I managed to chip away at it from session to session with no major issues and the last lap was my best which is always the plan – sometimes it’s in another session.
“But the lap started off not as well last the first Q1 lap but then it got better and better – maybe it was tyre temperatures or something.
“I felt strong and then I was up a couple of tenths and it’s always nervous coming into the hairpin because you want to brake late and gain some but you don’t want to lose everything.
“I’m very very happy and super grateful for the huge efforts the team have put in to keep us in the fight.
“It’s more exciting than ever for me because we’re really fighting these guys.
“It’s amazing and I think that’s what racing is about. It pushes you to raise the bar every time you go out.”