Mercedes' lack of pace in China threatens to compound their misery after missed opportunities in the first two races of the season.
Following the software issue that cost Lewis Hamilton victory in Australia, Valtteri Bottas just ran out of laps to catch Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
And while Ferrari will have been more than happy to feed off their rivals' misfortune, with wins for Vettel in the two opening rounds, their qualifying performance in Shanghai put daylight between the teams.
Half a second separates Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen on the front row from Bottas and Hamilton behind them, striking a psychological blow to the Silver Arrows as they bid to kick-start their season.
The Red Bull pairing of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo start fifth and sixth respectively, meaning the stage should be set for a fascinating run to the first corner.
Further back on the grid, Pierre Gasly's hopes of building on his fourth-place finish in Bahrain appear slim after he qualified 17th, while Williams will be desperate for an improvement as the only team yet to score a point.
HAMILTON FEELING HOPELESS
Hamilton cut a frustrated figure as Ferrari ended Mercedes' six-year grip on Chinese Grand Prix pole in emphatic fashion on Saturday.
Not only were the Silver Arrows half a second off the pace, but the Briton was out-qualified by team-mate Bottas for the second race in a row.
And there was little in the way of optimism emanating from the defending champion as he reflected on his qualifying performance.
"I don't know if we can challenge," he told Sky Sports. "We were quicker in the last race [Bahrain] but they were able to hold on and will probably do the same tomorrow."
AN EYE ON THE PIT LANE
There has been a troubling trend for botched pit stops this season and there has already been another incident in Shanghai this weekend.
A Ferrari mechanic suffered a double leg fracture in Bahrain last time out, as Kimi Raikkonen was released too early, while Haas endured a double retirement in Australia after tyres were not fitted correctly.
And McLaren have become the latest team to be fined in similar circumstances, forced to pay €5,000 after Stoffel Vandoorne was released with a loose wheel during Friday practice.
As pit-lane safety comes under increasing scrutiny, there will be more than one eye on the pit lane on Sunday.
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 50
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 33
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 22
4. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 16
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 15
1. Ferrari 65
2. Mercedes 55
3. McLaren 22
4. Red Bull 20
5. Renault 15
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Lewis Hamilton
The cloud cover that shrouded Shanghai on Saturday is set to clear, with temperatures expected to increase as a result.
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