Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton all but ruled out his chance of winning the Hungarian Grand Prix after qualifying fourth.
He faces losing ground to title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, who is one point ahead and starts from pole.
“We can’t do anything in the race. We can’t follow or overtake a car that is as fast or faster,” said the Briton.
“It is going to be a battle to get on the podium – and unless something happens with the others that is probably going to be where we are.”
Hamilton’s remarks are founded on the difficulty of overtaking on the tight and twisty Hungaroring.
The 32-year-old said his unsurpassed record on the track, where he has won five times in 10 races, was “not relevant”.
“It has been a good track. I was hoping to make the difference today but I wasn’t able to,” he added.
Mercedes have struggled compared with Ferrari all weekend but when Hamilton set the fastest time in the second part of qualifying it raised hopes he might be able to take a record-equalling 68th pole.
But he complained of lacking tyre balance on his first lap in the top 10 shootout and then ran wide at the fast Turn Four, forcing him to abort that run.
That meant he had to minimise the risks on his final lap to ensure he qualified close to the front, which he said was “unfortunate”.
“That’s the way it goes and at least I am on the second row,” he said. “I don’t think we could have matched the Ferraris even if I did a great lap.”
Hamilton’s performance was the latest in a series that is evolving into a pattern – that when Mercedes are struggling on low-grip tracks with slow corners, he is less competitive than Bottas.
The Finn was 0.254secs behind Vettel’s pole, with Hamilton 0.431secs behind the German.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said: “I don’t really have an explanation. Is that really a pattern? I don’t know. I need to look it up. I have to think about it. Give me until Spa [the next race in four weeks] and I can give you a proper response.”
Wolff said he believed Mercedes’ drop in form compared with recent races was caused by the different nature of the Hungaroring track.
“We are starting to see a little bit of a pattern that the DNA of our car just seems to be more suited to the faster circuits and Ferrari is doing very well on these twisty, slow circuits,” he said.
But he added that he thought Mercedes had made progress since their difficult weekend in Monaco, when Ferrari qualified one-two – as they have this weekend – and finished that way in the race.
“Final practice did not look good,” Wolff said. “The car was very difficult to drive and Lewis wasn’t able to put one single lap together.
“We recovered for qualifying. We changed the set-up a little bit. And we found the operating window of the tyre better and we recovered – but it wasn’t enough.
“In Monte Carlo, we had much more severe problems. The car was new for us and we discovered a pattern we did not see while in Monaco. We solved that and this is what I take positive from the day, that we are much closer to Ferrari on these types of circuits.”
Vettel said: “Chances are good. We start at the front, they couldn’t be any better but tomorrow is a long day.
“It’s hot, it’s always hot here. It’s tough for tyres. We saved a set compared to the others. We’ll see. I think the race is long and a lot of things to look out for.
“A clean race is a good race and then we’ll see which result we get.”
Credit: Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer at the Hungaroring