Fernando Alonso suspects the McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team was simply too slow to score points in the Chinese Grand Prix, rather than its alternative strategy being a mistake.
Alonso was adamant on Saturday that both McLarens were robbed of Q3 slots by the red flag for Nico Hulkenberg's lost wheel and would be quick enough for strong points finishes.
But despite both running in the top five for long spells as strategies unfolded, Alonso and team-mate Jenson Button finished back in the 12th and 13th positions they had qualified in.
McLaren diverged from its rivals by running long stints on the medium compound tyres early on, whereas most saved those for the end of the race.
"It was not easy, we didn't have the pace to deliver a good result and be in the points," Alonso said.
"We chose to be on a two-stop strategy against the three-stopper and tried to have the benefit of that but it didn't work as planned.
"Also the safety car didn't come at the right time for us but after that we didn't have the pace either."
Button made a late switch to the super-soft tyre with a third stop but still made little ground.
He hopes McLaren's strategy was wrong rather than the team being as far off the pace as it looked.
"Hopefully we made the wrong strategy call being on the medium because if we didn't we're not quick enough to get into the points at the moment because nothing else went wrong," he said.
"I'm hoping that that was the wrong choice and we made a mistake there."
Alonso, who described the long medium stint as "quite painful at times" said the question marks over the Shanghai result showed how important it was for McLaren to get into Q3 and follow the leaders' tactics.
"To be in the points you need to follow the leading pack otherwise you are out of sync with them and you have traffic in the race which kills your strategy," he said.
"We need to find that half-second that can put us in front."