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.”