NURburgring, Germany, July 24, 2011 (AFP) - Defending drivers world champion Sebastian Vettel conceded that he and Red Bull have been forced on to the back foot by their rivals' improvements following Lewis Hamilton's triumph in the German Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old German finished a distant and lucky fourth in Sunday's race dominated by Hamilton in his McLaren and Fernando Alonso who finished second for Ferrari.
His Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber finished only third after starting from pole position. Vettel said: "Of course it's not satisfying, but I think we have to accept that today other people were quicker than us.
"As I said surely I'm not happy -- so I have to come back next time but for now I think they (McLaren) have been working and improved their car so we need to make sure that we come back.
"I didn't feel very good all weekend, I never got to the pace probably that Mark (Webber) had in the car and, as I said, I struggled to keep up, after the three or four laps of the warm-up stage is over, with the top two or three cars."
After a runaway start to the year in which he won five of the opening six races, finishing second in the other, Vettel has now won only once in four races and Sunday's fourth was his worst result of the year.
He added: "Generally I think fourth anyway was probably our maximum today which is not satisfying, but you know we have to accept it and go from there. "Next week is the next race and it looks like McLaren and Ferrari are getting quicker and quicker -- so we need to work harder on our car to try and improve it in order to be back on the podium and maybe stand on the top step
Webber, whose results have improved as Vettel's supremacy has started to wane, said he also felt Red Bull were not as quick now as their main rivals. The Australian said: "I think it's clear to see. Everyone is reasonably intelligent up and down this pit-lane when it comes to performance -- so we know that in the last race at Silverstone, which has normally been a very, very good track for us, Ferrari were very quick there.
"Today there was not much more we could have done to challenge for the victory and we hung in the fight as long as possible, but in the end we got out-punched."
He rejected suggestions that landing pole position indicated he and Red Bull remained competitive. He said: "We know that the prizes and points are handed out on Sunday afternoon -- Saturdays have always been a strong area for us, the team and the car, it's not something that we inherently design in the car.
"We want to do it on Sundays as well, so it's something the team will work on and chip away at. We have good people and we know what we need to do to try find some more performance on Sundays."
Vettel and Red Bull retained comfortable leads in both the drivers and constructors championship series.