Jenson Button said he had been hampered by tyre issues in qualifying at Shanghai, where he ended up fifth on the grid.
The McLaren driver out-qualified his team-mate Lewis Hamilton for a third straight race, but was frustrated not to be closer to the front.
"I struggled with just getting a whole lap, I couldn't get a whole lap with the tyres - they were either not warm enough at the start of the lap or they were overheating at the end," Button told reporters.
"I was really struggling with it. In Q3, the last run, it was much better but it was a little bit too late really because the car felt very different so I was playing around with the diff and the front wing but it was all a little bit too late.
"A bit frustrating that it took us that long in qualifying to get the balance right but - considering - P5 is okay. Pity to get pipped by the Mercedes [of Nico Rosberg] at the end but we'll make up for it tomorrow."
He is confident that he will be in a stronger situation in the race, whatever the weather.
"If we can work with it a little bit more for tomorrow we'll be okay," Button said. "It's probably going to rain but I think the car set-up that we have on the car is probably good for the wet conditions."
Both McLaren drivers were heard to comment over team radio on false neutrals appearing during gearshifts, but Button played down the issue.
"That's not an issue really. Not a problem at all," he said. "It just happens now and again but it wasn't on a quick lap, it was on an out-lap, so it's alright."