The reigning world champion, who didn't finish in Melbourne after colliding with Heidfeld, was aiming for his first points of the season.
"It's a very long and tough race and our aim is to finish in the points -- if not on the podium."
Teams must stick with the same tire set up for qualifying and the race, while all but five cars are using the same engines they used at the Australian GP under the one-engine, two-weekend rule introduced for 2005.
BAR-Honda's Jenson Button, using a new engine in Malaysia courtesy of a now-closed loophole in the engine regulations, was ninth Saturday and the Red Bulls of Christian Klien and David Coulthard were 10th and 11th.
BAR-Honda's backup driver Anthony Davidson, a late replacement for Japan's Takuma Sato -- who withdrew earlier yesterday because of a fever -- was clocked in 1:34.866 in his first qualifying run for more than two years. Davidson, who had two races for Minardi in 2002, was 15th.
He was just in front of 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve in a Sauber and the Jordans and Minardis.
The new-season blues continued for Formula One constructors' champion Ferrari on yesterday with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello finishing in the back half of the field.
World drivers' champion Schumacher, who couldn't complete the season-opener in Australia, was 12th in the qualifying run Saturday and Barrichello was 14th, well below the standard he set in his second place run in Melbourne on March 6.
Ferrari general director Jean Todt admitted that the second qualifying lap on Sunday, just before the race, is not going to dramatically alter the team's low starting positions.
Todt said Ferrari was well aware that its car, a modified version of the 2004 vehicle, is "not sufficiently competitive over a single timed lap."
Ferrari, which has won the last six constructors' titles, is facing a stiff challenge from Renault, whose Giancarlo Fisichella won in Melbourne two weeks ago.
Renault's Fernando Alonso aced the qualifying with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 32.582 seconds. Fisichella was third quickest.
Schumacher's 1:34.072 was nearly 1 1/2 seconds behind Alonso.
"It's clear that, on a quick lap, with new tires, our performance is not at the same level as our rivals," said Schumacher.
Ferrari has refused to join the nine other F1 teams which have agreed to restrict testing in 2005 to 30 days. The reduction in testing is aimed at cutting the costs in the sport.
Ferrari has a bigger budget and more testing facilities than any other team, and says it'll test whenever it wants until F1's governing authorities, FIA, makes rules limiting testing.
So much for solidarity among the so-called "Group of Nine."
Formula One's smallest team, Minardi, claimed to be speaking on behalf of eight of its rivals when it issued a statement here in Sepang condemning Ferrari for doing too much testing, contradicting moves within the sport to reduce testing as a cost-cutting measure.
Sauber, one of only two teams to share a tire manufacturer with Ferrari, rebuffed Minardi's stance.
"Team Sauber Petronas distances itself completely from the statement `nine teams record their disappointment regarding Ferrari testing activities,'" Sauber's own statement read. "It was released without the prior approval of the aforementioned teams."