Lewis Hamilton qualified third, while Mark Webber - on the harder, medium compound tyre - was fourth.
Fernando Alonso, who needs a second place finish to force Vettel to wait for the title should the Red Bull star win Sunday's race, also gambled on the medium tyre but could only qualify eighth.
Alonso's strategy was sound: he needed to pursue a different strategy to Vettel to have any realistic chance of keeping the title alive. With soft tyres lasting just 8-10 laps in India, any driver starting on the softs will have to pit in the very early stages of the race.
But Red Bull clearly realised that, and ensured that Webber followed the same strategy as the Ferrari to ensure that they will control the race no matter what happens.
"We split our options and don't know which is the better route," admitted Red Bull chief Christian Horner after qualifying, adding that he had told Webber before the session that starting in the top six but on the harder tyre would be as good as starting from pole position.