(Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton refused to rule out a landmark 100th career Formula One win on Sunday after qualifying fourth for the Italian Grand Prix, but recognised it was 'highly unlikely'.
Mercedes' seven-times world champion has not won since his record-extending 99th victory in his home British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 18.
With Red Bull's championship leader Max Verstappen qualifying on pole on Saturday and two Mercedes-powered McLarens ahead of him, Hamilton was not putting much positive spin on the situation.
Silverstone marked the debut of the experimental sprint qualifying format and Monza was the second trial of it but Hamilton struggled at the start.
He dropped four places from second to sixth, recouping one when AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly crashed and another because team mate Valtteri Bottas, the sprint winner, starts Sunday's race from the back due to engine penalties.
"I was being as aggressive as I could be," he said of his afternoon. "The McLarens are the quickest on the straights, I just couldn't get close enough to then capitalise on the straight line.
"They were just as fast in straights, if not faster.
"The start was just... broke away traction. Subtle. Like two millimetres too deep with the clutch pedal and wheelspin. That's it."
Asked whether there might be 'some sort of curse' on getting to his 100th, Hamilton said he was not a believer in such things.
"Tomorrow is highly unlikely but not impossible that we can get the win. I'll of course be working as hard as I can to try. I think it's damage limitation at the moment.
"It generally should be a relatively easy race for Max unless I can get past the two McLarens early on and then challenge him."
Verstappen's second place finish in the sprint meant he secured two championship points, sending the Dutch 23-year-old five points clear of Hamilton with every chance of taking the lead into double figures on Sunday.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)