Sebastian Vettel has named his 2012 Red Bull Car 'Abbey', but from the sound of it 'Nervous Nellie' might have been nearer the mark.

"I would say that I did not get the best start into this season," Vettel admitted ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. "I was not happy with how the car felt, it was pretty nervous to drive. I think Mark also had a similar feeling."

While his team mate Mark Webber might well have had similar thoughts, it seems the Australian is coping better with the nervous car than Vettel is so far, leaving the world champion on an unaccustomed back foot.

"I see a big weakness that we need to work on," he conceded. "Especially in qualifying, I did not feel as confident as I did last year ... This is for sure a weak point for us at this stage."

Vettel said he wasn't expecting any significantly better form in Bahrain from that which he demonstrated last weekend.

"Since this is a back-to-back race with China, we can certainly not expect miracles, but it is a different track with different conditions," he said, adding that he was looking forward to getting back to Europe and some additional time before the Spanish Grand Prix, that includes a test session at Mugello to help get on top of the teething problems.

But it's not only in the car or in the sweltering paddock of the Bahrain International Circuit that Vettel's feeling the heat at the moment. As the current world champion, he's inevitably the focus of a lot of media attention - and in recent weeks there's been an unfamiliar note of criticism of the young German creeping in to the coverage.

First there was the controversial clash with backmarker Narain Karthikeyan at last month's Malaysian Grand Prix, after which he described the Indian driver as an "idiot" and a "cucumber". Karthikeyan responded by calling Vettel a "cry baby", and the whole affair left an unpleasant taste with the impression that a two-time world champion shouldn't be seen to be "bullying" an inexperienced driver at the back of the grid.

It was all "part of the sport", insisted Vettel. "I lost a solid fourth place, so that's obviously disappointing," he told German newspaper Sport Bild. "Sometimes you let some emotion show, and I don't think someone should be ashamed about that ... I think this is more honest than to be smiling, when you don't feel like smiling."

But this weekend, with the controversy swirling around whether or not the Bahrain Grand Prix should be run against the backdrop of civil unrest and accusations of official oppression of demonstrators, Vettel did little to endear himself to fans by dismissing the whole thing as just "a lot of hype."

"I haven't seen anyone throwing bombs. I don't think it is that bad," he said just before Friday's practice sessions. "There is a lot of hype which is why I think it is good that we start our job here which is the sport and nothing else," adding that he was looking forward to getting out on track "because then we can start worrying about the stuff that really matters like tyre temperatures, cars."

While simply a matter of awkward phrasing and a lack of media savvy that could in other contexts be rather endearing, the implication that tyre temperatures matter more than protests for civil rights in which people on all sides are being injured or even killed was seized upon by critics as an example of just how much of a hermetically sealed bubble the F1 paddock exists in.

Increasingly in the cross hairs for criticism, and with a nervous car doing him no favours, Vettel is finding just how tricky it is to be the man out on front that everyone's watching, ready to pounce on the slightest stumble or misstep in word or deed. But that's simply the price of success in F1.