Mark Webber concedes the tables have turned this season as, unlike last year, Red Bull are no longer the dominant force.
In what was arguably the biggest shock of this season to date, last year's record pole sitter Sebastian Vettel failed to make it into Q3 in Shanghai on Saturday.
And it was not a crash that put the German out in Q2, rather it was a lack of pace.
Webber at least fared a bit better will the Aussie set to start Sunday's Chinese GP from sixth place on the grid having been elevated one position after Lewis Hamilton's penalty.
Webber's qualifying time, though, was 1.169s short of Nico Rosberg's pole position time.
"It's a different Championship this year, it's tight," conceded the Australian. "Any bobble... If I made a mistake on my second lap in Q2, I'm out as well. So it's very easily done.
"It was the best we could do, but in the end it wasn't enough. We're learning a lot, and it's a tight field. If you're not getting everything completely together, then you're exposed."
He added that Saturday's results are proof that Red bull still have a lot of work to do to get up to speed.
"We can keep saying we're gonna get there, but we've got to do it. The team is working very, very hard, the guys have done a great job, but we have some pretty quick cars out there. I think today was dominated by tyre prep and tyre awareness I suppose.
"We know the Mercedes is very, very hard on its tyres, so that night have helped them on one lap today. I've been there, like the old Jaguar days, very fast in qualy but hard in the race. Let's see how it goes. We're very strong in the grands prix, so looking forward to it.
"We'll see how the tyres go. Temperature seems to be playing a big role this weekend on the tyres."