Lewis Hamilton on Saturday said he had no hope of winning a record eighth Formula One title this season.
This was after he finished 14th in Saturday’s sprint race ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
The seven-time world champion crossed the line an eye-watering 41.4 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen after just 21 laps of racing in Imola.
World champion Verstappen passed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap to take the chequered flag and secure pole position for Sunday’s race.
But Hamilton endured another woeful afternoon in his desperately uncompetitive Mercedes machine.
The British driver started 13th before dropping two places on the opening lap.
Hamilton regained one spot when he passed Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
But, after failing to score, he is already 50 points behind Leclerc in the championship standings —— the equivalent of two victories.
And, with Saturday’s result deciding the grid for Sunday’s main event, Hamilton faces losing even further ground in the title race.
“We are obviously not fighting for the championship,” said the 37-year-old.
“We are fighting to understand the car, improve and progress through the year. That’s all we can hope for now.
“Ultimately we haven’t got it right, but everyone’s working as hard as they can to reverse it.”
Hamilton and his Mercedes team are attempting to remain positive following their unsatisfactory start to the new campaign.
But the first signs of tension were evident after qualifying on Friday, with Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff involved in a heated exchange at the back of the team’s garage.
“It’s quite funny how it’s being interpreted,” said Wolff as he attempted to play down the dispute.
“Lewis and I shared frustration that we weren’t able to extract performance. It was basically the same point of view and sheer anger. There’s no division and no blame.
“There’s pressure to get it right, but nobody in the team is enjoying the ride at the moment. We just need to dig ourselves out of the hole.
“Today marks the low of this first four races. And it’s obvious that we’re not anywhere near the fight at the front.”
Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell started and finished 11th, a day after both Mercedes cars failed to qualify in the top 10 for the first time in a decade.