There were concerns for all three teams, but Ferrari had by far the greatest when it came to Leclerc's vehicle. "Max drove the wheels off the auto all afternoon, and although he fought hard to pass Vettel and challenge for a podium, we just didn't quite have the pace to get ahead of him".
The Chinese Grand Prix has a habit of throwing up exciting races with mixed strategies, but tyre supplier Pirelli has predicted a one-stop on Sunday.
"As I've said in the last three races, overall in a team I think we need a number one and a number two, but I will make sure to change these things as quickly as possible".
They are by no means a certainty to challenge at the front, but if the race does become fragmented, they are in a good position to pounce and a 13/1 shot for Red Bull to provide the victor looks like a valuable punt - and a clever hedge against Hamilton's chances.
"We were just staying neatly behind each other, but at a certain point Vettel passed me and the two Renaults as well", said Verstappen.
"Vettel is a very good driver, I mean he has won four world titles", Verstappen told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
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Designed by renowned F1 architect Hermann Tilke, the Shanghai International Circuit opened in 2004 at a cost of 450 million US dollars, making it at the time the world's costliest motorsport venue.
Hungarian driver Ferenc Szisz is generally regarded as the first victor of a Grand Prix, at Le Mans in 1906, while the Monaco Grand Prix, the glamour race of the current calendar, dates back to 1929.
LEWIS HAMILTON got in a spin in China and admits he's struggled to get up to speed in time for F1's 1,000th world championship race.
Verstappen will now start the race in Shanghai in fifth place, behind the two Mercedes cars, Vettel in third and Leclerc in fourth.
Red Bull will be on the lookout for any opportunity to repeat last year's success on the 10th anniversary of that first win.
"I could almost get a auto length ahead of him and the angle into the last corner for him wasn't very sexy".
"I hope that we do not have to rely on reliability and hope that we have a much closer race", he said.
The German has won just once in China, when he handed Red Bull their maiden victory in 2009, before the current V6 turbo hybrid era.