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Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday's race at the Chinese Grand Prix from the rear of grid, with teammate Nico Rosberg at the front of the pack.
Hamilton, already facing a five-place penalty for a gearbox replacement, hit further trouble during the early stages of qualifying when his Mercedes suffered a problem with its energy recovery system.
With the reigning champion out of contention, standings leader Rosberg grabbed pole with a lap that was half a second better than the one managed by his closest challenger, Daniel Ricciardo.
The Red Bull driver edged out Kimi Raikkonen, who took third place.
Raikkonen's fellow Ferrari competitor, Sebastian Vettel, saved a set of tyres for the race in securing fourth place on the grid.
With Hamilton at the back, Rosberg appears likely to extend his World Championship lead on Sunday, although the Shanghai International Circuit offers the Englishman plentiful overtaking opportunities.
"No-one wants it easy," Hamilton told BBC Sport. "It's still early on.
"We are definitely in the mud but we will dig our way out.
"These things are sent to try us. I'm sure the guys are just as gutted as I am.
"You can overtake here. The tyres do not last too well but, of course, I will give it everything I've got. Hopefully they'll get the issue fixed, and I'll have a race."
Chinese Grand Prix qualifying result
Pos. Driver, Team, Q1 Time, Q2 Time, Q3 Time
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:37.669, 1:36.240, 1:35.402
2. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:37.672, 1:36.815, 1:35.917
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:37.347, 1:36.118, 1:35.972
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1:37.001, 1:36.183, 1:36.246
5. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:37.537, 1:36.831, 1:36.296
6. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, 1:37.719, 1:36.948, 1:36.399
7. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:38.096, 1:37.149, 1:36.865
8. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:37.656, 1:37.204, 1:36.881
9. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 1:38.181, 1:37.265, 1:37.194
10. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:38.165, 1:37.333, -
11. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:38.016, 1:37.347, -
12. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:38.451, 1:38.826, -
13. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:37.593, 1:39.093, -
14. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:38.425, 1:39.830, -
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:38.321, 1:40.742, -
16. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:38.654, 1:42.430, -
17. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1:38.673, -, -
18. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, 1:38.770, -, -
19. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:39.528, -, -
20. Rio Haryanto, Manor, 1:40.264, -, -
21. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, -, -, -
22. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, -, -, -