Sebastian Vettel believes he would not have been able to qualify in the top five even if he had set a time in Q3 at Barcelona.
The German decided not to complete a timed lap in the final qualifying segment in order to save tires for tomorrow's race, a decision he believes will be crucial. Vettel will start from eighth position.
The World Champion said, however, that Red Bull did not have the pace to be in the top five today.
"A pretty different session today; it was extremely tight," said Vettel. "From Q1 onwards we decided to go on the soft tires. The first run in Q2 wasn't good enough, so I had to go again and it was clear then that if we made it to Q3, we wouldn't have any new soft tires left.
"I think we got the maximum at the end there in Q3, we saved some sets of tires, which we thought going into qualifying would be crucial, but we didn't have the pace of the top five cars today. tires will be important tomorrow, so let's see what we can do."
Teammate Mark Webber completed a disappointed day for Red Bull after being knocked out in Q2.
The Australian did just one run in the session, thinking it would be enough to make it into Q3, but ended up dropping down to 12th position.
"I'm pretty surprised by that; the guys did a good job with the car and were pushing hard all weekend," he said. "We were quick, but the track kept getting faster and we got caught out. My first timed lap in Q2 wasn't fast enough. I was P2 after the first lap and we thought we had done enough, but in the end it wasn't.
"I didn't use two sets of tires in Q2, which it turns out wasn't the right thing to do. I was told not to go out again, but the way that the track improved was a surprise to all of us. We were very strong in the first part of Q2 and I was happy with how I drove my lap. It's the way it goes sometimes."