Max Verstappen missed out on pole position for the Qatar Grand Prix after falling almost half a second away from the target time set by his main title rival Lewis Hamilton in Saturday's qualifying session.
Verstappen started the weekend quickest in first practice on Friday, but since then has struggled to stay in touch with the improving Mercedes drivers.
Valtteri Bottas was quickest in the rest of the practice sessions, but when it came to qualifying it was Hamilton who was the undoubted star of the show as he topped all three rounds on Saturday evening.
"Just lacking a bit of pace," Verstappen admitted after the session when interviewed by former F1 driver David Coulthard in parc ferme.
"It's just been a bit more tricky for us again in qualifying. You can clearly see that," he said, pointing to the fate of his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez who failed to make it into the final round even after switching to soft tyres.
"Checo isn't even in Q3," he sighed, knowing that having no support at the front of the grid will make his job harder on Sunday. "It just shows that we are definitely struggling a bit more than normal.
"I wish we could have fought for more," he admitted. "But nevertheless I'm still second so it's all to play for [in tomorrow's race]."
Verstappen also lost out to Hamilton on the top spot in last week's qualifying session in Brazil, although the Mercedes was subsequently excluded from the results for a DRS technical infringement.
Even so, Hamilton was able to romp to the front during the sprint qualifying race and Grand Prix to claim victory over Verstappen and narrow the gap between them to just 14 points in the title standings with three races remaining.
If that happens again in the race at Qatar then Verstappen's advantage in the points will be all but wiped out. But the Dutch driver is hoping to pull something out of the bag at the start of tomorrow's Grand Prix.
"We've never done a race here so there's a lot of unknowns," he replied when asked if he would be able to use the long run down to turn 1 to his advantage at the start. "It's difficult to say.
"I don't really think about these things too much, we just need to work on our start and and then see where we end up," he insisted. "We'll go over qualifying, and then we'll just focus on the race in general."