We are only in the fourth race weekend of the 2022 Formula One season, but Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has concluded that he and his team won't be fighting for this year's Constructors' and Drivers' World Championship titles.

Mercedes showed an extreme lack of pace against Ferrari and the Red Bull in the first three races of the season, and things did not improve at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola this weekend.

Italy hosted the first sprint race of the season, and Hamilton only managed to finish in 14th place, a step back from his initial qualifying grid spot. His teammate George Russel maintained 11th place, but both cars were clearly weak as they failed to overtake even in the DRS zones.

During qualifying on Friday, both Mercedes drivers did not even make it into Q3, showing further just how far off the pace they continue to be. They were already about a second off the pace in the opening rounds of the season, and it seems that they are falling even further back.

"We are obviously not fighting for the championship. But we are fighting to understand the car and improve and progress through the year. That's all we can hope for right now," said Hamilton, as quoted by BBC Sport.

It is still early in the season, with 20 races to go, but Hamilton is taking a realistic approach. Imola was a new low for the team, who had been battling right behind the front runners in the opening three races. They even managed podium positions thanks to the Red Bulls' reliability issues. However, this weekend, they have fallen to the back of the midfield pack.

Red Bull and Ferrari clearly have the pace advantage, with Charles Leclerc and defending world champion Max Verstappen the only two drivers to have won this season so far. The Ferraris have consistently been fast and reliable, but Verstappen has overtaken Leclerc for the victory both in Saturday's sprint race and in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. He had also been keeping up with the Ferrari in Bahrain and Australia, but had to retire due to reliability issues.

Needless to say, this year's championship will clearly be fought between the Prancing Horse and the Red Bulls, especially if Christian Horner and his team find a solution to their car's reliability problems.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was seen looking extremely angry in his usual position in the garage, and it is looking to be a very frustrating season for the Silver Arrows. How things have changed in the new era of F1, with Russell failing to overtake Haas driver Michael Schumacher and Hamilton staring at the gearbox of Yuki Tsunoda's Alpha Tauri throughout most of the sprint race.

"It is what it is; it's what we have. Ultimately, we haven't got it right this year, but everyone's working as hard as we can to correct it," Hamilton concluded.

Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton (left) and George Russell (right) pose alongside Mercedes chief Toto Wolff Steve Etherington/MERCEDES-BENZ via AFP