Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner was simply being honest when he confessed that "Fourth and fifth on the grid after Kimi's penalty is probably what we expected going into qualifying today," but it makes the golden days of 2011 when the team marched effortlessly from pole to pole seem like a distant dream.

But just as the team bounced back from an underwhelming qualifying in Australia to take second place at the chequered flag, so Horner was hoping for more of the same in Malaysia. "Our long run pace has been encouraging throughout the weekend," he pointed out. "So hopefully we can have a strong race tomorrow and put on a good show."

Mark Webber, who qualified in fourth place in Sepang, made the same point.

"In Melbourne we were a bit stronger in the race than in qualifying," he said. Looking at the gap to pole today, it seems we are two or three tenths off, which is a step in the right direction. We will re-group and have a look at how we go tomorrow."

Webber said that his qualifying session had not been "too bad, we had a reasonable run" - but Sebastian Vettel was rather more downbeat in his assessment after finishing in sixth place in the final Q3 session times.

"I think in race trim we might look a bit better, but nonetheless I think you can see that we don't have the easiest car to drive, we are aware of that and are pushing very hard," he said. "I didn't feel that good in the car and was struggling to find the balance, so I didn't get everything out of it for one flying lap."

Vettel's decision to stick with the hard compound tyres from Pirelli in Q3 raised a few eyebrows up and down pit lane, leaving many to wonder if it had been a strategic decision to not even go for a fast time in the final session. Vettel insisted that wasn't the case.

"We didn't feel so good on the medium compound tyre, so we decided to go onto the harder tyre for the final lap, which was a step forward," he said.

But Horner's words made it clear that there had been more forward-looking strategy to it than that. "We elected to take a different approach with both drivers tomorrow, with Mark qualifying on the softer tyre and Sebastian on the harder tyre," he said.

"We didn't feel we quite had the pace today to take the McLarens on over a lap, so that's why we decided to split the strategies with the two drivers," he later told Sky Sports F1.

Renault's Cyril Dumont thought this set up an intriguing prospect for Sunday's race for the two drivers.

"The race will be interesting tomorrow, as Seb is going to start on the hard tyres while Mark is on medium tyres, so it will be interesting to see how we get on," he said. "Today I'm a bit disappointed of course, but it will be a hot race tomorrow, so many things can happen."

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