(CNN) Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes team are going “backwards” after a disappointing performance at the weekend’s season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain.
The seven-time world champion battled to finish fifth after starting seventh on the grid, crossing the line nearly 51 seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen.
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell finished seventh to cap a disappointing start to the 2023 Formula 1 season for Mercedes.
Afterwards, Hamilton had an honest reaction to how his car and team performed against the others.
“We certainly can’t fight them at the moment – (Red Bull) were a lot quicker than us, as were the Astons,” said the 38-year-old.
“We’re the fourth fastest team now, as opposed to third last year. We’re falling back, (so) we really have a lot of work to do to close that gap.”
Reigning world champion Verstappen marked the new season with his dominant run, while team-mate Sergio Pérez completed a Red Bull double.
More than 20 years after his F1 debut, Fernando Alonso turned in the performance of the weekend as the 41-year-old finished third on his debut for Aston Martin.
The two-time world champion said the whole team was “extremely proud” of the car’s performance in the race.
Alonso’s car highlights in the season opener came in battles with Hamilton – both at the start of the race and a wheel-to-wheel break near the end – where the Spaniard is emerged victorious.
Hamilton expressed his joy at the thrill of the battle, but also his disappointment with the overall result.
“I absolutely loved the race. I got off to a good start, I had Fernando in Turn 4 and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a good start to the race.’ It felt like one of my best first laps,” Hamilton said.
“Then I was sliding. I had so much understeer at the start, took so many wings, couldn’t get around some corners and just couldn’t keep up with the guys in front.
“My intermediate stint was good and then, at the end, I was so close to catching Carlos (Sainz for fourth position), but (it was) not good enough.”
As the 2023 F1 season approaches, Mercedes has been keen to develop its unique ‘zero sidepod’ car design which it struggled with last season.
After the race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff called Sunday “one of the worst days in racing” while promising “radical” changes.
“Really not good at all, we just lacked pace up front, right and centre,” Wolff told Sky Sports.
“Red Bull is just on a different planet. That’s what hurts because they’re so far ahead, it reminds me of our best years because we just put a second on everyone.
“That’s the benchmark and we have to take one step at a time to come back and we can do that. We can, absolutely we can. I think he has to be a lot more radical in the steps than hoping for a three-tenths upgrade.”