Lewis Hamilton admits Mercedes is in for a challenging Chinese Grand Prix after a troublesome qualifying session in Shanghai and doubts the Silver Arrows can challenge Ferrari on Sunday.

The Brackley-based outfit had previously taken six consecutive pole positions at the Shanghai International circuit heading into qualifying but were stumped by an off the pace W09 in colder conditions.

Both Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas struggled to generate enough heat into the Pirelli tyres over one lap, leaving them vulnerable to an attack by the Ferrari’s who locked out the front row of the grid the second race running.

Despite China providing plenty of opportunities for overtaking, Hamilton remains coy on whether Mercedes’ performance in race trim will allow them to fight for victory.

“It’s in the top three of the easier ones [tracks] to overtake at – I think the delta is around a second but the Ferrari’s are too fast on the straights,” Hamilton told Sky Sports.

“It’ll be interesting. It’s a lot hotter tomorrow, so it’ll be a challenge to see if we can keep up with them.

“I don’t know if we can challenge, we’re half a second behind today. Honestly I can’t tell you if we’ll challenge.”

Ferrari’s back-to-back victories in the opening two rounds of this season has Hamilton believing it will be a tough order to stop the Italian marque from securing another 25 points.

“We were quicker [than them] in the last race, but they were able to hold on and they’ll probably do the same tomorrow.”