Lewis Hamilton insists he cannot afford to lose more points to Formula 1 Drivers’ championship title rival Sebastian Vettel despite the season being just two races old in what is a record equaling 21-race season.

The Ferrari driver recorded victories in the opening two rounds of the campaign in Australia and China, while the Mercedes driver and title favorite had to settle for second and third places respectively. This has left the reigning champion 17 points adrift and he is already concerned about the 2018 championship.

The season was dubbed by some as the battle for the fifth as for the first time there are two drivers on the grid with four drivers’ championships each. And with Ferrari producing a competitive car yet again this season, Vettel seems to have a genuine chance of beating the Briton in their race to join Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

Hamilton will be offered a chance to claw some of the deficit back as the F1 grid heads to China for the third race of the season Sunday. The Mercedes driver has won at the Shanghai International Circuit a record five times and is hoping he can extend his winning run in 2018. 

It's always been a good track for me," Hamilton said, as quoted on Sky Sports. “So I really hope that I'm able to climb the ladder and get back to where we've been working towards being in the last two races. … There are good things to come, but I am 17 points behind and I can't afford to lose any more points to Sebastian.”

Hamilton did not have a good weekend in Bahrain and it all started with the driver having to take a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change ahead of qualifying. The Briton started the race in ninth place, which immediately put him on the backfoot compared to Vettel, who started on pole position.

Despite that, the Mercedes team were able to put themselves back in contention when they switched to a one-stop strategy, while the Ferrari’s were initially planning to two-stop Vettel. It soon became apparent the one-stop was the quicker way to go and the Italian team followed the Brackley-based team and ensured the German driver did not stop again.

Vettel, however, had to manage a less durable tire for longer than expected and at one point it looked like the German would be usurped by the two Mercedes cars of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton, who were second and third. But the latter suffered an issue with his pit to car radio, which did not allow him to communicate properly with his engineer and Hamilton believes the margin for error is minimum and is keen to sort out all the issues before the start of the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.

“It is very marginal now and so really magnifies the importance of communication and these small little things that can make a difference of seven points or not," Hamilton explained. "We can't afford to be losing any races to Ferrari and so we need to get ourselves in a place where we are not only strong in our operations in the car, but also we're in the race.

"Strategy was great [in Bahrain], but to make the strategy work, we need to make sure we are on the same understanding about what we have to do,” he added. “We are going to sit down and discuss the last two races. The thing is different drivers like to have different feedback. Some drivers probably like to have more than others. If you listen to my radio over the years, I don't like to have a ton. … But there are times where you need more."