Sebastian Vettel says he was struggling to get a feel for his Ferrari en route to securing sixth on the grid for the German Grand Prix, but dismissed suggestion the car is generally not quick enough in qualifying.
For the third race in succession, both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen – who starts fifth – were out-qualified by the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, putting them further out of reach from the Mercedes team both drivers say they are targeting.
Indeed, while Vettel has been fairly dismissive of the brewing Red Bull battle for second in the constructors' standings given Ferrari's loftier objective of defeating Mercedes, the team comes into Germany just a single point clear of its rivals now.
Though Vettel says a scrappy lap contributed to his sixth position on the grid, the four-time champion feels the result betrays Ferrari's ultimate pace, especially in race conditions.
“I think it's clear that in qualifying we obviously weren't as competitive as we wanted to be, not just looking ahead but also looking behind. If you look at that we were two tenths quicker than Force India, I think no discussion we are usually a lot quicker than two tenths, the gap is bigger than two tenths behind. Clearly we didn't get everything right so we need to understand why.
“On my side I was struggling to get a good feel for the car, I was very happy with the lap in Q3 but it wasn't good enough, simple as that. Not good enough to put us where we normally belong. I think in the race things should be a lot clearer, we should be a lot more competitive compared to today.
“Usually we do pick up quite a bit of competitiveness from Saturday to Sunday. Obviously it's up to us to understand and to find the reasons why we are not where we should be and where we can be on Saturday. For Sunday I am a little bit less worried.”
Vettel is also unconvinced the Ferrari has too small an operating window to capitalise over a single lap.
“I think we've only been struggling, let's say if we are talking about the set-up, to find the right balance at the last two events. I think Hungary stood out and we were a little bit on the back foot but we made it by qualifying, so that was very good and by qualifying the car was at its best.
“This week I think is a different story and I think we were struggling to find the right set up, we didn't find it in qualifying at least with the conditions we had this afternoon. That's why, I guess, we are a little bit off compared to normal.”