Vettel clocked 1min 31.095sec at the Shanghai International Circuit yesterday ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas, who was third fastest with his Mercedes teammate and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton fourth. Saturday's pole was 52nd of Vettel's career and fourth in China.
No driver has ever won the season's first three races without being crowned champion that year, and the last Ferrari driver to do it was Schumacher in 2004 when he was at the peak of his powers and won the opening five.
By contrast, Hamilton was only fifth after an error-strewn session that ended with the Briton a second off Vettel's pace.
"Thank you guys, great qualifying, great vehicle", said Vettel, who also started from pole in Bahrain last weekend, over the team radio. "The vehicle was really unbelievable".
"I still believe we are the best team with the potential to win races and fight for this world championship". "I think in terms of speed, all good, but I don't know why in the races maybe wanting it a bit too much and recovering from all the stuff that happened before, but it's a bit hard to really judge that now".
Ferrari, though, played the bluff on the ultras, with neither Raikkonen and Vettel completing their final laps and heading back into the pits.
"I think he realized he was wrong", said Vettel. We go again tomorrow and see what we can do. In that case, obviously, we were both a bit lucky. "See what it brings".
The first win in Australia was chalked down to luck after a computer glitch for Mercedes, while the second win was because of the team's struggle with their tires in the hot temperatures in Bahrain.
"I think for us it was quite straightforward", he said.
Nico Hulkenberg secured his sixth successive P7 spot, with Sergio Perez placing his auto between the two Renaults in P8.
The German, however, established a 0.3-second margin over teammate Carlos Sainz in ninth, with Force India's Sergio Perez sandwiched between the two in eighth.
Hamilton was 0.58secs off pole with Mercedes struggling for grip in the corners with the cool air in Shanghai not helping.
Only Ferrari and Mercedes felt sufficiently confident to give it a go, and though Vettel and Raikkonen both began laps on ultrasoft tyres as security in the final moments of the session, neither set a time, meaning them, Hamilton and Bottas will be able to execute a one-stop strategy tomorrow (Apr 15).
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner had emphasised to Verstappen that he needed a clean weekend in Shanghai. Haas driver Romain Grosjean rounded out the top 10.
Magnussen, Windows, Alonso, Vandorn and Hartley failed to qualify in the top 10. He managed to make one run in Q1, just making it through, which he then converted into a creditable sixth place, while Max Verstappen was in fifth. "If you can switch on the tyres quickly, it's possible".