Sebastian Vettel refused to blame his poor qualifying pace in China on his decision to use a different car from team-mate Mark Webber.
The world champion used an older specification car because he had not been happy with the newer one used in the first two races.
After qualifying 11ththe Red Bull driver said: "I don't want to blame the result on [car] packaging.
"Mark was faster, full stop. I was convinced on the current package."
Webber qualified seventh for the Chinese Grand Prix as Vettel failed to get into the top 10 qualifying shoot-out for the first time since the Brazilian Grand Prix in October 2009.
Webber was 0.331 seconds quicker than Vettel in the second qualifying session, which the German failed to progress beyond.
The Australian has now out-qualified Vettel in all three races so far this season.
Vettel, who has been world champion for the last two years, has been unhappy with the handling of the car in the first two races and wanted to try an older rear bodywork design which he had liked in pre-season testing.
This has the exhaust exiting further back and towards the centre of the car than Webber's newer design, with each one trying to harness the exhaust gases for a different aerodynamic benefit.
The team had always insisted that the newer one was a step forward, even though observers said it made the car look more difficult to drive, and the evidence of China suggests their data was right.
But Vettel said: "It doesn't feel right now to sit here and blame the car and the packaging.
"I was happy with the lap, it was not the best of my life, but it was pretty good. Overall, it is a long lap and we are not missing an awful lot.
"If you look at Mercedes pace in qualifying, especially [pole winner] Nico [Rosberg] in qualifying that was very strong. We could never have done that, but even if we are speaking 0.2-0.3 secs in Q2 it was exceptionally close."
He added: "Doing the same lap time three times in qualifying showed this was more or less it.
"It was not as if there was a 10th or a couple on the table. I don't think we missed out, it was just not quick enough at the time."
Webber's lap in final qualifying was actually slower than Vettel's best, but conditions had changed and the Australian said he had not been happy with his performance.
"The lap didn't come together, wasn't good enough," he said. "Shot our bolts. That's it."
Asked to explain the decision to run two different specifications of car, Webber said: "Seb was pretty keen to give it another crack. He had a pretty good winter with it.
"There was a collective decision from the team to gather more data with both situations particularly, giving us a bit of confidence I suppose for fresh tyre running.
"The car is pretty solid on used tyres in a grand prix, which we saw in Albert Park and in the limited running we had in Malaysia on slicks at the end of the race.
"So there was a collective decision made to bring it here on the Friday and see how that unfolded. They committed to running it for the rest of the weekend and investigations continue to go on.
"There are so many parameters go in, even more than previous years, to getting the best out of these cars. We're learning how we get the most out of the RB8.
"In previous seasons if you were missing 0.2-0.3 secs it maybe wasn't a big deal, but in 2012 it is. And it's a tight field because there are lots of competitive cars."