Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth for this weekend's French Grand Prix.
However, the Mercedes driver was still nearly a second behind pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.
The 7-time champion sounded dejected afterward, admitting Red Bull and Ferrari are still much better.
Lewis Hamilton has been forced to put on a happy face at times during his struggles this season, and that might be getting harder to do as his chief rivals continue to keep him at arm's length on the track.
Hamilton qualified fourth for this weekend's French Grand Prix, but despite a "beautiful lap" in Q3, he was still nearly a second behind pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, and he doesn't expect things to get much better during the race on Sunday.
After qualis, he spoke with F1 TV about how he was surprised to be so far behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls.
"We were hoping to be a lot closer than we are," Hamilton said. "In my mind, I thought if we make an improvement of a half-a-tenth to a tenth [of a second] with the car, maybe we would be two-tenths [behind] or something like that, but we're a second off ... My last qualifying lap was a beautiful lap, but it was miles off theirs."
Hamilton finished behind Leclerc and Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Leclerc's teammate, Carlos Sainz, did not participate in Q3 because he took a grid penalty for changes to the car and will start the race at the back of the field.
Hamilton also spoke about where Mercedes is now compared to Red Bull and Ferrari, and it's not good.
"I imagine [the race] is going to be similar to today," Hamilton said. "I think we always get a little bit closer in the race, but those guys are just so far ahead this weekend. They're in a different league, the Ferrari and the Red Bull, to the rest of us."
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff didn't sound much better when he spoke with F1 TV and was asked how he felt about the steps the team has taken.
"I feel definitely bruised," Wolff said. "We had some good races on race tracks where we weren't supposed to be quick ... So we come in here, and we were expecting to be right in the fight, and we're a second off with [car] updates. Clearly, there is something we do not understand."
Mercedes had shown better form in recent races. Hamilton was on the podium in the last three rounds, and Mercedes finished in the top three at five of the previous six.
Wolff blamed one update to the car, in particular, that might have explained their slow pace.
"[The changes] were revolutionarily slow," Wolff said. We put a big wing on this morning, and it was like dragging a parachute behind [Hamilton]. We tried a revolutionary change, but this one wasn't good."
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