Lewis Hamilton claims he doesn’t believe Mercedes have provided him with a car capable of carrying him to an eighth world title.
The Briton finished the final morning’s pre-season testing in Bahrain three seconds off the pace, with Red Bull seemingly having won the early arms race.
After Mercedes revealed their sidepod upgrade on Thursday, Red Bull merely refined their own version on Saturday.
And, with £10million-a-year design guru Adrian Newey inspecting every fraction of bodywork, Red Bull led the running through Sergio Perez before lunch.
World champion Max Verstappen then set the fastest lap of the day. With the first race coming in Bahrain a week today, Hamilton was despondent, saying: ‘At the moment, I don’t think we will be competing for wins.
‘I’m sure everyone can figure out that we are not the quickest. Ferrari look to be the fastest, and perhaps Red Bull and then maybe us, or McLaren. We are currently not at the top.’
Mercedes struggled in testing last year, only for Hamilton to beat Verstappen at the first race. Some are again suggesting that the world champion constructors have yet to show their true potential.
Following the biggest overhaul to the regulations in nearly a decade, Hamilton added: ‘It feels a lot different from last year. It doesn’t look as good.
We have far bigger challenges and they are not one-week turnarounds. They will take a little bit longer. I’m told we have a considerable amount of pace to find.
‘There’s potential within our car to get us there. We just have to learn to extract it and fix the problems, which is what we are doing. But we have hurdles to overcome.
‘Next week, we will get a better showing of our pace but people might be surprised. ‘We are being told we are talking ourselves down, but it is a bit different this year.’
Qatar, meanwhile, looks increasingly likely to take Russia’s place on the calendar in September. A few outstanding points remain to be finalised.