George Russell has warned Mercedes could face a wait of "five months" to fight for F1 race wins "on merit".
Mercedes enters the new season after winning the constructors' championship in each of the last eight years but the team appears to be facing an uphill struggle to make it nine.
After a difficult pre-season test in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton stated Mercedes would not be "competing for wins" in the early races, a stance Russell supports ahead of the opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
"Fighting for victories and winning on merit are two different things and I think we saw last year that Lewis and Mercedes won the race but they qualified second, four-tenths behind Red Bull and Max," explained Russell, who starts from ninth, with Hamilton fifth.
"They were far behind the Red Bull but they did things right on the day and they came away with the victory.
"On merit, I totally stand by what Lewis said. I think we aren't where we want to be."
Mercedes has "a million things" to try to fix porpoising
Mercedes suffered more than Red Bull and Ferrari with porpoising across the two winter tests, and while strides appear to have been made this weekend, Russell feels it could take time for the team to fully get on top of the issue.
"We are continuously trying things but we don't have a silver bullet at the moment that we think is absolutely going to clear our problems but equally, we don't know," said Russell.
Suggesting Mercedes may find a fix rapidly or that it "might be another three, four, five months work to truly understand it", he added: "Fingers crossed we get it right sooner than later.
"But even so, I think we will be in the mix and there's no reason why if we don't do everything right, get the strategy right, make a good start that we couldn't hold off a faster car."