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Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes clearly no longer the quickest team in F1

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Great start for Vettel and Bottas (1:54)

Heading into Turn 1 of the Chinese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel squeezed out teammate Kimi Raikkonen to take the lead, giving Valtteri Bottas the opportunity to take P2. (1:54)

Lewis Hamilton says the first three races of the 2018 season prove Mercedes can no longer claim to be the team to beat in Formula One.

Having lost the opening two races to Ferrari, Mercedes was expected to be back on top in China but it was comfortably beaten in qualifying by the Italian team -- former world champion Damon Hill likened that performance to the end of Mercedes' "empire". While Valtteri Bottas ultimately lost victory in the race due to an ill-timed Safety Car Hamilton struggled for pace throughout the weekend -- one he later labelled "a disaster" -- and could only manage fourth position.

The result marked the first time Mercedes has failed to win three consecutive races since the introduction of V6 turbo engines in 2014. Hamilton thinks Mercedes has slipped behind Ferrari and maybe even Red Bull, who won the Chinese Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo.

Asked if he felt more or less confident about winning the title now, he replied: "Hasn't changed my thinking, my goals are still the same. It is clear from this weekend that we are not the quickest.

"We've lost performance since Melbourne and maybe more so this weekend. We are the second, or third fastest team at the moment so we have some improving to do but that's not impossible. I think what this team has shown over the years that we are great at staying united and continuing to power on and keep working."

Hamilton is refusing to make excuses for his Shanghai struggles, saying the onus is on him to find a remedy in time for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 15.

"I definitely like I was on top of my A-game this weekend. I came prepared exactly the same as always, I just struggled with the car. Rather than blame it on weather or strategy, or anything else, I just... I was uncomfortable in the car this weekend, well Saturday and Sunday.

"To not have the pace, the pace level that I normally have, I got to take it upon myself to try and figure it out and move forward. But of course it's been a joint effort, but definitely on my side we struggled more."