Singapore: Mercedes have all but given up hope of winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix after a lacklustre performance in Saturday`s qualifying that they struggled to find an explanation for.
After taking pole position in 23 consecutive races dating back to the middle of last year, the seemingly unstoppable Mercedes team were shuffled back to the third row of the grid after being outpaced by the Ferraris and Red Bulls.
Mercedes and their rivals were left in a state of disbelief after world champion Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth after taking pole position in 11 of the previous 12 races this year and his team mate Nico Rosberg was sixth.
“Shock is probably not the right word because we need to stay calm and analyse what happened, but we are very surprised," Mercedes Motorsport head Toto Wolff told reporters.
"We have been very good for two years now and never put a foot wrong and this time it was a massive step rearwards and we need to concentrate on our strengths and get it right for Suzuka."
Hamilton, who needs one more race win to emulate his childhood hero Ayrton Senna`s 41 race victories, conceded he may have to wait a little longer for his next win.
"The goal is to still win the race but it’s very hard to overtake here and the others, particularly the Red Bulls, are incredibly quick through the long runs," Hamilton said.
"It is what it is, we’ll fight as hard as we can. I doubt we are going to find something between now and tomorrow but if we do, great."
The Englishman said his main problem was with the tyres as he struggled for grip on the twisting track, which features 23 turns and few long straights.
"It was actually really challenging but these tyres for some reason on my car aren’t working. It’s so weird," he said.
"You heat them up, same as everyone else, do your warm up laps same as everyone else and you finish a lap where there seems to be okay grip and you see someone else a second up the road so it’s very strange."
Rosberg, who trails Hamilton by 53 points in the championship standings with six races left after Singapore, was unable to hide his frustration with the car.
"Unbelievable. I can’t remember the last time I have been one and a half seconds off the pace. It must have been years ago. It’s incredible and we don`t understand it," he said.
"I made setup changes throughout the whole weekend and in all different directions, and big changes and I’ve gone full circle."
Mercedes still has a huge lead in the constructors` championship but the team`s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda said they would need to discover why they dropped off the pace so dramatically.
"We really have to sit down now carefully and understand what we did wrong because the car is no different, the engine is the same, the tyres are the same," he said.
"Something we must have done wrong here in Singapore, what we did not understand and we have to find the answer."