Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes could be as low as the third-fastest team in Formula 1 at the moment after failing to win any of the first three races of the season.
Valtteri Bottas looked well-placed to take victory in the Chinese Grand Prix after snatching track position from polesitter Sebastian Vettel during the first round of pit stops, but Red Bull took advantage of a Safety Car to fit fresh tires and win with Daniel Ricciardo. The result marks the first time Mercedes has gone three consecutive races without a win in the V6 turbo era, and Hamilton believes it is facing its toughest championship fight yet after slipping down the order.
“It is clear from this weekend that we are not the quickest,” Hamilton said. “We’ve lost performance since Melbourne and maybe more so this weekend. We are the second, or third fastest team at the moment so we have some improving to do but that’s not impossible.
“I think this team has shown over the years that we are great at staying united and continuing to power on and keep working. Everyone here [and] back at the factory is just going to keep pushing as hard as possible. We’ve got a lot of information after the last couple of weeks. I certainly am pushing very hard.
“James Vowles and James Ellis, Niki [Lauda] and Toto [Wolff] trying to encourage them so they know which kind of areas to do with the car that they are struggling the most with so they can really apply pressure maybe in those departments or just make sure that we’ve got more development coming. We’ve got to keep constructive pressure on the guys. They want to win just as much as all of us. It’s just a battle, working as a team.”
Despite the result, Mercedes leads the constructors’ championship by one point from Ferrari while Hamilton closed the gap to Vettel to nine points in the drivers’ standings after the German suffered damage in a clash with Max Verstappen.
“It’s a tough battle ahead of us, particularly on my side – I would say my side, but also us as a team. We’ve been underperforming. [Saturday and Sunday] have been a disaster on my side, so I’ve got to try and rectify that and try and get back into normal performance mode, otherwise more valuable points will be lost. I’m thankful a couple of incidents that happened ahead kept us in the battle.
“I struggled with the car. But thankful for Verstappen!”