Lewis Hamilton is concerned his downward turn in qualifying pace at the end of the 2015 season could spill into 2016 if Mercedes continues on the same development path.
After 11 pole positions in the first 12 races of the season, Hamilton failed to return to very front of the grid at the final seven grands prix. The turning point was the Singapore Grand Prix where Mercedes experienced a one-off drop in performance that left Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg well off the pace of both Ferrari and Red Bull.
After an investigation into the Singapore anomaly, Mercedes made changes to the set-up of the car that left Hamilton uncomfortable with its balance while team-mate Rosberg rediscovered his one-lap form and took pole at the final six races. Hamilton experimented with different set-ups at the final rounds, but was unable to get the car to his liking. He expects next year's Mercedes to have the same traits as this year's and says it is crucial he finds a way to overcome the issues over the winter.
"What we have will go on to next year, so of course it is something I am thinking about," he said when asked if he was concerned about Mercedes' development direction. "I've sat down with my engineer and we need to think about how to rectify this because I have this great graph which shows all the races, with up being slower and down being quicker. At the first 12 races, apart from Barcelona, the car was great.
"Since [Singapore] it has been terrible laps, terrible balance ... particularly in Abu Dhabi. We need to figure out a way. There must be a way. Nico's car looks like it is really well underneath him. In the race it is generally quite good, so we need to figure why it isn't in qualifying."
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff confirmed there was a change in development direction after Singapore, but is reluctant to pin Hamilton's drop in performance on that alone.
"I would say it is the most likely suspicion," he said. "The car is being developed and being improved, and after Singapore we developed in a different direction and we took some learning on board of that weekend. Whether the car has come more towards Nico or more towards Lewis, I don't know it could be a factor. I wouldn't want to reduce onto one single factor, there could be many different factors coming playing a role.
"I don't know, there has been so much discussion about whether Nico has stepped up his game or has the car come towards him development-wise, or has Lewis just taken it more easily unconsciously. We have to have an intelligent list in the next couple of weeks [after Abu Dhabi] to analyse. I think we have to find out, at the end of the day for Lewis the world championship title mattered but then those last couple of races saw really great driving from Nico."