The mysterious disappearance of Lewis Hamilton's race pace has stumped the McLaren driver heading into Sunday's Korean Grand Prix
The 2008 Formula One world champion cut an unusually subdued figure after last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, struggling to understand where his pace had gone while team mate Jenson Button celebrated victory.
He missed out on pole position after crossing the line too late to get in a second lap and then had another coming together in the race with Ferrari rival Felipe Massa.
Even a visit to paddock neighbours Red Bull to congratulate Germany's Sebastian Vettel on a second successive championship ended in failure when he was unable to find the 24-year-old.
Hamilton could have blamed some of his woes on a slow puncture but instead, talking to British reporters with little animation, he was hard on himself and also seemingly lost for an explanation.
"We've got far bigger problems than that to worry about the championship," he said when asked whether it hurt to see Vettel, more than two years junior, win his second title.
While he agreed that his car was 'fantastically quick', the 26-year-old said he was just "not fast enough."
"I think you're all trying to come out solutions as to why I'm not going well, but there is no solution, there is no answer to it," he said as reporters suggested possible reasons.
"I don't know what the answer is, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't just jump to conclusions because I don't know what the answer is.
"I just wasn't quick enough. I was quick in qualifying, I just wasn't quick in the race."
Hamilton has had a nightmare season, regularly called before the stewards and triggering numerous controversies over his aggressive driving style. Some of his comments have been ill-chosen and he is trailing Button in the standings.
Since his debut in 2007, and including that memorable season, Hamilton has never ended a championship behind a team mate on points.
There is a suspicion that the easy-going Button's increasing popularity and success in a team once seen as being built around the protege Hamilton, is starting to unsettle the younger Englishman more than he would like to admit.
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh indicated that Hamilton was fighting a number of battles, some of them psychological, but expected him to fight back at the Yeongam circuit.
"His form will return," he said. "There's no-one in this team that doesn't believe in Lewis Hamilton.
"Every international athlete has highs and lows, and this has been a difficult time. That's the way of life sometimes," he told reporters.
"When things aren't going well they seem to multiply on you and that affects your mental condition, your state of mind, and it makes it more difficult."
Whitmarsh pointed out that Hamilton was five years younger than Button, who had been through plenty of difficult times earlier in his career.
"We have these massive expectations, and Lewis has massive expectations, on very young shoulders," he said of a driver who finished runner-up in the championship in one of the most sensational rookie seasons ever.
"When you start and it's very easy, then when you have that pressure and expectation, it takes some adjustment. He is dealing with that, and I am sure he will. He is a tough little fighter," added Whitmarsh.
"So I'm sure he's going to come good very, very soon."
Source: Reuters Sports