Lewis Hamilton says “it could take a long time” before Mercedes can compete with Red Bull again.
Mercedes have begun a process of revamping their car after entering a second consecutive season late.
But the seven-time champion said: “It’s going to take us the rest of the year to potentially close that gap.”
His team-mate George Russell added: “I’m not going to say we’re terribly optimistic. We recognize that Red Bull are one second down the road at the moment.”
Red Bull dominated the start of the season, winning two one-two finishes in the first two races, and are clear favorites again at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Britain’s Hamilton said: “If you look at Red Bull, it’s probably going to continue to evolve.
“Some cars hit a plateau in terms of performance. At some point it can’t go on. But maybe it’s possible.
“They have a great team around them and I’m sure they will continue to add support.
“We just have to make sure that when we make the switch, hopefully the drop isn’t too big and hopefully it will definitely take us the rest of the year to potentially close that gap.”
Where Hamilton struggles
Hamilton explained his struggles with the Mercedes car and how he feels uncomfortable with the positioning of the cockpit.
He said: “I don’t know if people know this, but we sit closer to the front wheels than all the other riders. Our cockpit is too close to the front.
“When you’re driving, you feel like you’re sitting on the front wheels, which is one of the worst feelings to feel when driving a car.
“If you were driving your car home and pulling the wheels right under your legs, you wouldn’t be happy when you approach the roundabout.
“What that does is it really changes the attitude of the car and the way you perceive its movement. And that makes it harder to predict compared to when you’re further back and sitting more centered. It’s just something I really struggled with.” “
The 38-year-old also expanded on comments he made after the first race of the season in which he said engineers “didn’t listen” to him regarding the design of this year’s car.
“I listened to the team and that’s the direction they said we should go,” he said. “If I had known the feeling I would have, it wouldn’t have happened. And that has to change for the future – 100 per cent.”
He added that a feature called in F1 “aero balance” – a reference to the center of aerodynamic pressure and how it affects changes in the car’s behavior through cornering stages – was “simply too far ahead”.
“We have a car that is very forward, very on the nose early on and then shifts gears later on,” Hamilton said.
But he expressed his belief that Mercedes would eventually regain their competitive form.
The first significant design changes to the Mercedes car are planned for the race after Australia, in Azerbaijan at the end of April.
However, these were planned before Mercedes decided on the first race weekend of the season to change the design philosophy of the car as the gap with Red Bull made them realize they were on the wrong way.
“There’s a part of me that’s just hoping we’ll find the trick and be straight on the right path that’s not far off from the others,” Hamilton said.
“We’ve shown in the past that we can grow quickly and hopefully that’s the case, as the car’s potential opens up, we’ll move full steam ahead in that direction. I’m grateful they’re open to making a change and not being stuck with what we have and I’m aware it could take a long time.”
Russell added: “It surprised us to see the lack of performance when we hit the track in Bahrain and that’s why we quickly changed our approach.”
Support Brazil against Piquet
Hamilton also expressed his support for the decision of the Brazilian authorities to beautiful triple champion Nelson Piquet for making racist remarks about him.
Hamilton said: “I still think we shouldn’t generally give people who are generally full of hate a platform.
“I would like to thank the Brazilian government. It’s quite amazing what they’ve done to hold someone accountable, showing that it’s not tolerated.
“Racism and homophobia are not acceptable and there is no place for it in our society. I love that they have shown that they stand for something. I wish more governments would do this .”