Red Bull and Ferrari remain in a league of their own at the top of Formula One and it could be a while before Mercedes win again, seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Saturday.
While a sense of expectation had built before Mercedes arrived at Le Castellet for Sunday's French Grand Prix, the track evidence was that the performance gap had grown rather than shrunk.
Hamilton qualified fourth but nearly a second off the pace of Ferrari's pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, although the Monegasque did get a useful slipstream tow from team mate Carlos Sainz.
Hamilton's team mate George Russell will start sixth, behind McLaren's Lando Norris.
"I'm really happy with my qualifying session," Hamilton told Sky Sports television.
"My last lap was great. I finished it and I was like 'ah, it's an awesome lap.' It was still nine tenths off the guys ahead.
"I'm not really sure why that gap's got bigger between these two races. They are kind of in their own league I would say, just performance-wise."
Hamilton said upgrades Mercedes had brought were worth maybe half a tenth of a second.
"Last race we were three or four tenths off and I was thinking this weekend maybe we'll be two tenths off and then we've been a second all weekend and sometimes a second and a half."
Hamilton has finished third in the last three races but has now gone 12 without a win, the longest such drought of his career.
The 37-year-old makes his 300th start on Sunday and no driver has ever won after going past that milestone.
The next race, Hungary, is an old favourite of Hamilton's and he has won there a record-equalling eight times.
"If at the next race we can close a couple of tenths, then we'll be in the fight in Budapest," he said. "But if it's anything like this, then it's going to be a while. But it's not impossible."