Fernando Alonso took pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix, with title rival Michael Schumacher down in sixth.
Alonso and Renault were dominant in the treacherous wet conditions
The Renault driver was 0.632secs clear of his closest rival, team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, in one minute 44.360 seconds in Shanghai.
Schumacher, struggling in the wet conditions in his Ferrari, was more than 1.2secs off the pace.
Honda duo Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button were third and fourth after setting exactly the same time.
Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres seemed less suited to the changeable conditions than the Michelins used by the team's main rivals.
Schumacher came dangerously close to missing out on the crucial final qualifying session and had to drag his Ferrari from 13th place to ninth with seconds remaining.
The team knows how to win the last three races and so I have no reason to be nervous
But the German's sluggish Ferrari was no match for the Renault's pace and he could only qualify in sixth.
Schumacher's chances of closing the two-point gap on championship leader Alonso in Shanghai could be hampered if the difficult, damp conditions continue - and more rain is forecast.
"If conditions stay like this it's going to be very difficult," said Schumacher. "But if it's drier we'll see, it's a long race.
"If we have to lose some points here, then we still have two races to go."
Schumacher cannot rely on team-mate Felipe Massa to help hold off the Renault charge on Sunday either as the Brazilian will start from the back of the grid.
Massa qualified in 13th but was handed a 10-place penalty after his engine was changed on Friday.
Schumacher was not comfortable in his Ferrari in the wet
Alonso suffered a few skids and scares through qualifying but never looked like being threatened and he wrapped up his first pole since June's Canadian Grand Prix - also the scene of his last triumph.
The Spaniard goes into Sunday's race full of confidence as he won in Shanghai last year while Schumacher finished dead last in 2005 and 12th in 2004.
"If we have normal dry conditions we will be really strong but if it is wet like this we are also strong," said Alonso.
"The main thing for us is to finish in front of Ferrari. We are optimistic and looking forward to a good race, not only here but also in Japan and Brazil.
"We are very optimistic. The team knows how to win the last three races and so I have no reason to be nervous."
The Michelin tyres which fired Renault's cause also aided the Honda duo of Barrichello and Button.
Remarkably both Hondas poured over the line in 1:45.503 with Barrichello given the nod ahead of Britain's Button as he set the time first.
"I'm very happy with the result, especially with Rubens and I posting the same time," said Button.
"We're looking good and I have a good strategy so we should be able to look forward to a great race."
Raikkonen took fifth for McLaren after causing some minor upsets - most notably for Button - when his right wing mirror fell off and rattled around on the track in the final session.
The Finn's team-mate Pedro de la Rosa squeezed into seventh behind Schumacher.
It was also an encouraging debut at Red Bull for Dutchman Robert Doornbos, who came home in 10th for Red Bull, two places ahead of team-mate David Coulthard.
Christijan Albers was penalised later in the day and dropped to the back of the grid after failing to attend a call by race officials to weigh his car during qualifying.
Qualifying positions for Chinese Grand Prix:
1 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault, 1 minute, 44.380 seconds
2. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault, 1:44.992
3. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda, 1:45.503
4. Jenson Button (GB) Honda, 1:45.503
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Finn) McLaren-Mercedes, 1:45.754
6. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari, 1:45.775
7. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren-Mercedes, 1:45.877
8. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber, 1:46.053
9. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber, 1:46.632
10. Robert Doornbos (Ned) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:48.021
Eliminated after second 15-minute session
11. Scott Speed (US) Toro Rosso, 1:45.851
12. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:46.968
13. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari, 1:45.970 *
14. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1:46.172
15. Mark Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 1:46.413
16. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 1:47.419
Eliminated after first 15-minute session
17. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota, 1:48.894
18. Jarno Trulli, Italy (Toy) 1:49.098
19. Christijan Albers (Ned) Midland-Toyota 1:49.542**
20. Tiago Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota 1:49.903
21. Takuma Sato (Jap) Super Aguri-Honda 1:50.326*
22. Sakon Yamamoto (Jap) Super Aguri-Honda 1:55.560 *
* = deducted 10 positions because of engine change
** = dropped to back of the grid for refusing to weigh his car during qualifying