Lewis Hamilton says his agonizing lack of pace put him in "no man's land" in Sunday afternoon's Chinese Grand Prix in which the Mercedes driver came in fourth.
The reigning world champion was left chasing at the outset of the 56-lap event., although a relatively solid first stint put Hamilton in contention for a podium finish while team mate Valtteri Bottas took command at the front.
However, a Safety Car period suddenly shifted the weight in favour of Red Bull, the only front-running team to take on fresh and softer rubber during the five-lap neutralization.
Hamilton was defenseless against both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, and only salvaged a fourth-place finish thanks to a 10-second penalty that was handed to the Dutchman following his on-track clash with Sebastian Vettel.
"I was in no man's land today, I had no pace. I was just trying to hold for whatever I had," he admitted.
"I had the older tyre on and was running out of it."
While Hamilton gained a bit of ground on Vettel in the championship standings, the Briton feels he's now very much on the back foot and uncertain what to expect next.
"Not quite sure to be honest, we've got obviously a tough battle ahead of us, on my side but also us as a team," he conceded.
"We've been under-performing, yesterday and today have been a disaster on my side, so I've got to try and rectify that and get myself back into normal performance mode otherwise more valuable points will be lost.
"But I'm thankful for a couple of incidents that happened ahead today and kept us kind of in the battle."