Lewis Hamilton admitted he does not have “any more jokers available” after falling 36 points behind Nico Rosberg following a dramatic Chinese Grand Prix.
Rosberg cruised to his third victory in as many races this season after his opposition fell away one by one at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen tripped over one another at turn one and Felipe Nasr, in attempting to avoid the two team-mates, rammed into Hamilton, starting from last on the grid after his engine expired in qualifying.
Hamilton lost his front wing in the collision and was forced to stop, and when Daniel Ricciardo, who had beaten Rosberg off the line, suffered a tyre blow-out on the following lap, the German’s opposition had been wiped out in a matter of thrilling minutes.
Rosberg subsequently cruised to a 38-second victory, his sixth in succession stretching back to last season, over Vettel, who recovered to finish second, and the Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat.
Hamilton, who limped home in seventh, despite 18 overtakes, shared an embrace with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff on his arrival at the team motorhome before the Briton whispered into his ear, “Difficult one”.
Hamilton, facing the media, continued: “There’s a long, long way to go. Lots can happen. It is just I don’t have any more jokers available really.
“It was a pretty horrifying race really, but there were some good experiences, there was some good overtaking.”
Rosberg opened up a 29-point lead over Hamilton in 2014 before the Briton reeled him in to win the championship.
“It doesn’t feel any nicer than it did back then,” added Hamilton, who was already due to serve a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
“If anything it probably feels worse because it’s just gone one negative after the other.”
But Hamilton, who has implored a positive attitude here – one perhaps not associated with his formative years in the sport – continued to remain upbeat last night.
“I definitely don’t feel the dark cloud I’ve had over me in the past right now,” he added. “Of course it’s a trying time. There are lots of different emotions and thoughts going through my mind as you see the season start the wrong way. But this is a part of motor racing. This is a part of the journey.”
Hamilton was third at the time of his fourth of five stops on lap 21 and he emerged midway through the order, but that was where his charge – with the damage to his car now taking more of an effect on his performance – stopped.
‘’Lewis, give it everything you’ve got, mate’’, was the call from his team, but Hamilton’s response was telling. ‘’I am,’’ he replied, and by lap 30 he was back in the pits for a fifth and final time. He emerged in 13th and negotiated the slower cars with ease, but Felipe Massa was proving an altogether different animal in the Williams, allowing both Ricciardo and Raikkonen to overtake the limping Briton.
There were no such concerns for Vettel – who despite being only 15th in the opening phase of the race – stormed all the way back through the pack to finish second.
Ricciardo also starred en route to finishing fourth following his early tyre blow-out, with Raikkonen and Massa crossing the line in fifth and sixth.
The McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were 12th and 13th. Britain’s Jolyon Palmer was the last of the classified 22 runners, with all cars, despite the drama, making it to the end of the race.
“It is going to be a great battle,” said Rosberg.
“I have a little bit of an advantage now which is good, better that way than the other way, but that is it really. I am just enjoying it and making the most of it race by race.”