Button will start eighth at the Shanghai International Circuit, making him the lead car on the medium Pirelli compound compared to the seven drivers ahead of him who will all set off on the soft tyre.
Given the rapidly-degrading nature of the soft rubber, those seven - spearheaded by Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton - will switch to the medium within the first few laps.
Theoretically that should leave Button, and triple world champion Sebastian Vettel who lines up behind him in ninth in his Red Bull, leading the field as early as lap four or five.
Beyond that it will then become a battle of strategies as Button and Vettel will naturally have to use the soft tyre at some point later in the 56-lap race.
"Qualifying was more positive than we thought it would be," said Button.
"In Q3 we decided to try something a little different, to start the race on the prime (medium) tyre.
"Our aim was to be the first prime-tyre runner on the grid, even if it meant qualifying 10th, and we did that. This was the best we could do with what we have.
"The quickest car on the prime is obviously the Red Bull (Vettel) so he has the chance to see what it (the strategy) can do, and whether it is good enough to win the race.
"For us, we just have to hang on and see what happens. Our strategy is very different, and if we can get through lap one cleanly then we can have a good race and score some good points."
Given McLaren's woes with their car this year after an abysmal start, and with the upgrades here not as strong as had initially been hoped, for team principal Martin Whitmarsh it is about being as clever as possible with the race plan.
"It was an extremely interesting qualifying for many reasons," said Whitmarsh.
"Jenson drove beautifully throughout all three sessions, with his seventh positions in both Q1 and Q2 showing there is potential in our car and we can close down the gap to the leaders.
"Additionally, he comfortably got through to Q3 and then drove a disciplined lap, with one eye on tomorrow's race strategy, to finish as the highest-placed runner on the medium compound tyre.
"We believe that tyre choice in the race could be decisive, and feel starting Jenson on the prime gives us a very strong strategy for the race."