A downcast Lewis Hamilton lamented at the end of Sunday's European Grand Prix in Valencia that his chances of doing battle for a second drivers' world championship in F1 2011 are 'finished' as 'we cannot beat the Red Bull right now, we just can't'.

Hamilton took the chequered flag a distant and frustrated fourth around the harbourside streets of the Spanish city - the first occasion on which he has not tasted podium champagne there. Despite at times looking in-shape to take the fight to Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso ahead of him, the McLaren-Mercedes star's excessive use of his tyres - notwithstanding a number of warnings from his team - ultimately counted against him, and in the end, it was all he could do to stave off Felipe Massa.

Winding up more than three-quarters of a minute adrift of runaway F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton has now slumped to a gaping 89 points adrift of his dominant Red Bull Racing rival in the chase for the coveted crown and afterwards, despite there being eleven of the season's 19 races still to come, he was uncharacteristically defeatist about his prospects of adding to his 2008 title success.

"I am just being realistic," rued the 26-year-old, one of the favourites for glory back at the beginning of the campaign. "It is finished really, in the sense of the championship. It is almost over already. We cannot beat the Red Bull right now, we just can't. They would need to fall off the track for me to beat them. There was over a second-per-lap difference in the race. That is just ridiculous.

"My mind state now is that I just want to continue finishing races, because Sebastian is pretty much gone. Unless Sebastian doesn't finish the next ten races - which is very, very unlikely - then he has pretty much won the championship. He has won six-out-of-eight races now and he is almost 100 points in the lead from me. I need four race wins just to catch up without him finishing any of those."

Bemoaning a lack of downforce contributing to a general lack of pace around the Valencia Street Circuit - a track that on paper was expected to suit McLaren's MP4-26 rather more than Red Bull's low downforce-happy RB7 - Hamilton was powerless to watch as Vettel overtook him in the F1 winners table, claiming his 16th grand prix victory and adding fuel to the flames of rumours that are placing the disgruntled British ace at RBR himself in 2013.

"It seems as if we've taken a step backwards in terms of performance, or maybe others have taken a step forwards," he dejectedly mused, with SPEED.com quoting him as adding: "We just weren't quick enough, simple as that. The Ferraris were massively quicker than us. We were really struggling to keep up with the Red Bulls and Ferraris ahead. I think we were quite lucky to stay ahead of Massa, really. The guys did a fantastic job in the pit-stops, the best pit-stops we've had all year.

"The guys were asking me to stay out longer. I said, 'guys I'm trying to look after the tyres as best I can, so this is all I can do'. I was pushing all the way, but with the tyres I was really, really struggling with oversteer for a long time.

"Unfortunately, [we were] just struggling with pace. I said I would be happy if I was able to keep my position, so I can't say I'm happy. We've not made an upgrade for several weeks now. I mean we've had upgrades - the front wing for example - but we've really been struggling with rear downforce."

Aside from 'really looking forward to seeing the fans, because they always put a spark into the weekend and make it that much brighter', Hamilton conceded that he does not hold out high hopes for his home grand prix at Silverstone in just under a fortnight's time - a race in which he famously triumphed in 2008, but that has been utterly dominated by Red Bull for the past two editions. Worse still, he fears that - contrary to general perception - the FIA's upcoming ban on off-throttle blown-diffusers could just hurt the Woking-based outfit more than most.

"I'm not really looking forward to the race because when you go to Silverstone, the desire to win is even greater because it's my home country," he told the BBC, "but we're just not quick enough to win there. I think we'll really, really struggle. I don't really have any expectations. I hope that we can finish ahead of one of the Ferraris - that would be a positive.

"I'll be going there as prepared as I can, racing as fast as I can, but we're not fast enough - and with the regulations changing, I personally think we're going to take another step backwards. Once we lose the engine map, we may see some differences there. We'll have to see how the ban affects us, but I'm a little bit nervous about it. I think we might be affected more than the two teams ahead of us. It could be even worse for us."

Hamilton's pessimism is shared to a certain degree by team-mate Jenson Button, who is ahead of his countryman in the points table - albeit still a staggering 77 markers shy of Vettel, the first driver in F1 history to finish either first or second in the opening eight grands prix of a campaign, and the German has triumphed in six of them.

That means the defending world champion has now prevailed nine times in the last twelve outings - a truly staggering 75 per cent strike rate - and Red Bull has achieved pole position 23 times in the most recent 27 races. Button has called for McLaren to ramp the speed at which it is introducing updates to the MP4-26 - and for Ferrari to join in the efforts to topple the currently invincible Vettel.

"We need more than just Lewis and myself to fight Sebastian," the 31-year-old told The Guardian, alluding to the fact that the McLaren pairing are the only drivers to have beaten Vettel this year. "We need Ferrari in there. If they are quicker than us they will take points off us, so it is tricky both ways - but I think we would rather take the risk and have them competitive and hope we can do a better job than both of them."

"We need some good upgrades," he added in an interview with the BBC. "I do know of some new parts that are coming, but I think we need more - we need to take some risks. We need to get our heads down and improve the car. Aerodynamically, I think we need an improvement for Silverstone, because we're not moving forward and that's what we need to be concentrating on.

"Behind us is a big gap to Mercedes, the Ferraris are in front of us and the Red Bulls are miles away - and Silverstone is a good circuit for them. We have to keep pushing, but the gap is now 77 points - that's more than three race wins, so I have to win all three and if he (Vettel) doesn't finish in the points at all he is still leading by two. It is a big lead, and it is going to be very difficult to catch him. There is no getting away from the fact that they are seriously quick. Red Bull's worst three circuits of the year were the last three - and Sebastian won two of them."


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