Sebastian Vettel confessed to having underperformed in qualifying for this weekend's German Grand Prix at the N?rburgring, as Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber stole his thunder and lapped up all the plaudits in front of the Heppenheim native's adoring home fans.

Rapid throughout practice and inarguably the form man of the moment in the 2009 F1 World Championship - with two pole positions on the trot and a commanding victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last time out - Vettel had been widely tipped as a challenger for the top spot in qualifying around the Eifel Mountains circuit.

However, the inclement and changeable conditions and an off-colour showing would work against him, leaving the 22-year-old just fourth in the final reckoning, two-and-a-half tenths away from Webber and with the Brawn GP duo of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button frustratingly in-between the pair.

"Today's qualifying was a bit of a lottery," contended the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner, "especially in Q2, as you never knew which tyres to put on. In Q3, it was back to dry tyres, but it was very tight. The circuit was getting better through the session, but my last lap wasn't magnificent, which is why I'm not on the front row.

"The car was good enough to have been up there today, but I didn't do it. Who knows what is happening tomorrow in the race? The weather is quite unpredictable around here, so we will see."

The Milton Keynes-based squad's team principal Christian Horner, though, defended his young charge's performance, alluding to 'a slightly heavier fuel load' than Webber - though the Englishman did admit his concern that the two KERS-equipped McLaren-Mercedes' of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen are right behind Vettel on row three, and could be a threat when the starting lights go out.

"Sebastian did a very good job," the 35-year-old stressed, "and it looked like he just dropped a little bit of time in the last turn. Unfortunately, the two Brawns have managed to get ahead of him, so we have two Brawns in a Red Bull sandwich. I also think the McLarens are ominously placed right behind us with their KERS, so it's going to make a very exciting race tomorrow."

"For Sebastian, it's a bit more complicated," echoed Fabrice Lom, principal track support engineer for RBR engine-supplier Renault. "He missed out by the smallest of margins and is fourth, [but] I think he can have a good race tomorrow if the performance of the car is where we think it is."