Lewis Hamilton says it is “clear” Mercedes don’t have the fastest car this season and expects a fierce battle for the Drivers’ Championship.
The Silver Arrows have dominated since the hybrid era began, claiming both individual and team honours in each of the last four seasons.
However, Hamilton’s team are yet to claim a win after three races so far, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo taking maximum points in China this weekend after two successive victories for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
“Who knows what the season holds?” he told reporters.
“If it continues the way it is it is going to be very tough to win, “But if there is an opportunity and we were to finish on top it would mean even more as it’s an even tougher season than before.”
The defending champion insists his target remains the title but he believes he faces a much tougher challenge than he did last year. “My goal is still the same,” he said.
“But it is clear from this weekend we are not the quickest. “We have lost performance since Melbourne and even more so this weekend.
We are the second or third-fastest team at the moment so we got improving to do, but that’s not impossible.
“What this team has shown over the years we are great at staying united and continue to barrel on and keep working.”
Hamilton is 1.91 to win the Drivers’ Championship outright, Vettel can be backed at 2.05 and Ricciardo is 34.00.