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Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel had been hoping to turn around his unusually slow start to the season with a return to the top of the podium at the Chinese Grand Prix.
He'll need a superb race on Sunday to achieve that after slumping to 11th in qualifying - his worst starting position since the Brazilian Grand Prix in October 2009.
It was just the latest setback for the two-time world champion, who only has one podium finish so far this year - second place in Melbourne - and currently sits in sixth place in the drivers’ standings. In Malaysia, he finished out of the points altogether after a collision with back-marker Narain Karthikeyan dropped him to 11th place.
At this point last year, he had taken pole in both Australia and Malaysia - and gone on to win both races. He also captured the pole in Shanghai before finishing second in the race to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel was so dominant in 2011, that he won six of the first eight races - and finished on the podium a remarkable 17 times.
The German was disappointed with his performance in qualifying Saturday, but he wasn't ready to hit the panic button on the season just yet.
"We have a long race ahead of us tomorrow and the car did feel good, so in terms of race pace we should do better tomorrow," he said. "We weren't fast enough and we have to accept it. We start from (11th) tomorrow and see what we can do from there."
Vettel decided not to use a revamped exhaust system that teammate Mark Webber added to his car this weekend because the reduced downforce doesn't suit his driving style. But he said that wasn't the reason for his slow times.
"It's always easy to say this and that now, but I was happy with the car yesterday and that's why I decided to stay as we were," he said. "I was happy with the laps I had in qualifying. There were no mistakes, but they weren't quick enough. It's as easy as that."
But Vettel has hinted at issues with the Red Bull this year. Earlier in the week, he said the balance of the car didn't seem to be as good as it was last year.
"It has nothing to do with grip, grip level or downforce level, it's more getting the entire car to work as a whole. I think that's where we're trying to understand and improve," he said.
"I would not say that we are lost," he added. "The problems with the car are very different and bigger than last year, when we understood the car very well and we could build on that."
If the German fails to win the Chinese GP on Sunday, he will face a struggle to win his third straight world championship. Since 1990, only one driver - Michael Schumacher in 2003 - has captured the title after failing to win any of the first three races of the season. Schumacher won his first race that season in the fourth event in San Marino.