SHANGHAI - World champion Sebastian Vettel denied sparking another Red Bull team orders row after he appeared to ignore an instruction during the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.
Vettel grumpily replied, "Tough luck" when told to yield to his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was closing fast in fifth, after the first round of pitstops.
Ricciardo eventually passed two laps later and finished fourth, 21 seconds ahead of Vettel in fifth. Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was the winner.
But despite his initial reaction, Vettel insisted he did give way to Ricciardo when he realised the Australian had more pace.
"I did move over," Vettel told reporters. "Initially I didn't understand (the request) because we were on the same tyres.
"At that stage Daniel was on a different strategy so, yeah, I moved over. I could see more and more towards the end of the race that I just didn't have the pace... In the end there was no point in holding him back."
Ricciardo has been consistently quicker than Vettel this season in an unexpected challenge for the German, who has won the last four world titles but currently lies fifth in the standings.
Vettel's initial response over the radio came when he was informed that Ricciardo, who was on the same tyres, was behind only because he had pitted earlier.
Vettel has previously ignored orders, most famously when he overtook then team-mate Mark Webber to win the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix despite being told to hold second position.
However, two weeks ago in Bahrain, he moved over without complaint for Ricciardo, who was on quicker, softer tyres.
Vettel's version of events on Sunday was backed up by team boss Christian Horner.
"Look, at that stage Seb was on the same tyres and he wants to race," Horner said. "But he was going through the tyres quicker so he's obviously moved out of the way and let his team-mate through.
"From a team point of view we always want to get the best result for the team that we can. And Seb's done the right thing today." Horner added that he was much more concerned about finding the reasons behind Vettel's lack of pace.
"More important for us is to try to understand what Seb is struggling with at the moment," he said.