SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel conceded he was struggling to keep up with Daniel Ricciardo after his team mate beat the world champion to lead Red Bull to their best Saturday result this season in Chinese Grand Prix qualifying.
Ricciardo, whose team lost an appeal this week against his exclusion from second place at his home race in Australia last month, was second to Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in treacherous conditions at soaking Shanghai with a lap that was half a second faster than Vettel's best.
"Daniel is doing a very good job. He has not just had one good weekend ... and so far he seems to be able to get the maximum out of the car," the German told reporters after qualifying third.
"Maybe I'm struggling a little bit but at the end of the day we have the same car. If he manages to beat me then he beats me on the circuit fair and square.
"Of course that's not to my liking but equally I know I have to do a little bit better," said Vettel.
Saturday's session marked the third time in four races that Ricciardo had outqualified his team mate.
The form the Australian has shown in his first year with the world champion team has surprised many who perhaps did not expect the 24-year-old to challenge Vettel on such a consistent basis and thought he would play more of a supporting role.
Red Bull have come a long way since off-season testing when they struggled to adapt to Formula One's radical new rules after years of dominance, and were unable to string a series of laps together.
They have emerged as the most consistent challengers to the dominant Mercedes since and appear to have pulled closer to the two Silver Arrows this weekend, with championship leader Nico Rosberg taking notice of their race pace.
"I think we've got a good chance to at least stay up the points end," Ricciardo said. "It's probably going to be a big strategy game tomorrow with two or three stops.
"It's pretty close. If you can make a two-stop work successfully I think it's going to help but we'll see what happens."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)