Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had been hoping to challenge for pole position in Saturday's qualifying session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But when it came down to it, their Mercedes rivals were evidently in a different class.
Valtteri Bottas set a new track record 1:36.231s in Q3. That more than half a second faster than Vettel's best effort in the same round.
“I think it was a good session but a bit of a shame to be that far back," agreed Vettel. He will start Sunday's race from third on the grid behind the all-Mercedes front row.
“Mercedes in general were very quick," he admitted. "Valtteri put in a mega lap so the gap was bigger than I expected.
“I think we were missing some speed today," he suggested. "Especially in Q3, in sector 2, they were very fast, while in the first and third sector we were more or less on the pace."
Mathematically, Bottas could still pip Vettel to the runners-up spot in the drivers championship. But the four-time world champion felt confident that Ferrari would be a match for their rivals in race trim on Sunday.
"Tomorrow we will see with race pace I think we can be a bit closer," he said. "Winning is always possible, even though here it’s difficult to overtake if your speed is not different to the other cars.
"Let’s see what this race can bring and hopefully we can put pressure on our rivals," he added. “I think the gap will shrink. I hope so, anyway. Then we will see what we can do.”
His team mate Kimi Raikkonen will have an even bigger job ahead of him when he lines up in fifth place on the grid. He was a full three quarters of a second off Bottas' pole time.
"It was not an easy qualifying and fifth position is far from ideal," Raikkonen conceded. “I thought the car was very good but it was a bit tricky to get the tyres to work and be consistent.
"The car felt good all day, I had good feelings [going in]," he continued. "In the first qualifying session, the second lap was very good. But after that there was a good feeling with the car but a bit tricky with the tyres.
"For whatever reason, I struggled to make them [the tyres] work and trust them on a flying lap," he said. "It was a bit of a guessing game.
"In some corners they were very good but then they would be snappy in others and I couldn’t make them work properly," he grumbled. "It would give good grip and then suddenly it would snap a little bit.
"You only need a little bit of oversteer," he added. "In the last lap I had some oversteer on the exit of Turn 11 and ****ed up the next few corners. I felt there was a lot of speed but I couldn’t really use it."
Raikkonen still has a chance to wrest fourth place in the drivers championship from his Red Bull rival Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian will start tomorrow's race one place ahead of him on the grid. Only seven points separate the pair heading into the season finale.
"The race is not going to be easy," Raikkonen said. "The start is the easiest place to overtake. But even after that, the race is far from over."