Lewis Hamilton says the Chinese Grand Prix was “a disaster weekend” and admits he needs to work out why he was off the pace.
He cut his deficit to title rival Sebastian Vettel from 17 to nine points after the German collided with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
But Hamilton said he was concerned he was not in the fight for a win or pole.
“I just didn’t have the pace. I have to figure out what it is. I can’t have disaster weekends like this,” he said.
Hamilton has been out-qualified by team-mate Valtteri Bottas for two races in a row and lined up fourth. After a poor start dropped him to fifth, he struggled to make up ground.
“I was in no-man’s land, I had no pace. I was trying to hold on for whatever I had,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also castigated his team for not reacting quickly enough when a safety car was deployed mid-race.
Red Bull switched both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo to new tyres and the Australian went on to win the race, while Hamilton was left out on his older tyres and was unable to hold off the Australian’s charge to victory from sixth.
Hamilton was also passed by Verstappen and finished fifth on the road, but was promoted to fourth because the Dutchman earned a 10-second penalty for colliding with Vettel, who finished eighth.
“It is a tough battle ahead of us,” Hamilton said on Sunday after the race. “From my side and also the team, we have been underperforming.
“Yesterday and today have been a disaster on my side. I have to try to rectify that and get myself back in normal performance mode or more points will be lost.
“(I’m) thankful for a couple of incidents ahead, otherwise more valuable points would be lost. That kind of kept us in the battle.
“Saturday the car was terrible balance-wise and it was the same today. You have to try and keep your head up and keep plugging away. I did that but I was in a different race to those around me. I just didn’t have the pace.”
Hamilton, who has not won a grand prix since the US Grand Prix last October six races ago, lost victory in the opening race of the season in Australia when a miscalculation by Mercedes led to Vettel jumping him at a pit stop.
He qualified fourth at the second race in Bahrain – behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas, as he was in China – and started ninth after a grid penalty, but recovered to third while Mercedes lost a race they felt they should have won with Bottas when Vettel switched strategy and managed to hold out in the lead.
Team boss Toto Wolff said: “The whole weekend we were not good enough. We just need to get our act together.”