Lewis Hamilton accused Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas of leaving "the door open" for Max Verstappen following his rival's crushing victory at the Mexico City Grand Prix.
Verstappen moved past both Hamilton and pole-sitter Bottas with a magnificent start at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez before going on to score an impressive win.
Starting second, Hamilton's reaction time might have been three thousandths of a second quicker than Verstappen’s, but Bottas allowed the Red Bull driver an opening when he left the racing line unguarded.
Verstappen hardly needed the invitation, jinking out of Bottas’ slipstream before out-braking both Mercedes drivers to seize the lead.
Hamilton has slipped from 12 to 19 points behind Verstappen with only 107 points on the table.
"I envisaged the start differently in the sense that Valtteri would get a better start and I would try to get into his tow," said Hamilton.
"I was covering my side of the track and making sure that nobody could come up the inside and try to keep whichever Red Bull I could see in my mirror behind.
"I thought Valtteri would be doing the same, but obviously he left the door open for Max.
"Max was on the racing line and did an amazing job braking into turn one. I was on the inside and there was no opening."
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff concurred with his superstar driver.
"That shouldn’t have happened," said the Austrian. "We had two cars in front and seemed to open up the sea for Max to come around the outside. It is annoying to say the least."
Bottas, who will be replaced by British driver George Russell next season, spun at the second corner after tangling with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. He finished 15th.
"It made my race a lot harder," said Hamilton, who spent the closing stages of the race holding off Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez.
"Having one Red Bull car ahead and one behind allows them to play the strategy. Sergio was super close and I couldn’t pull away from him. But when there is a will there is a way, and we managed to keep him behind."
With just four rounds left and 107 points available, time is running out for Hamilton to prevent Verstappen from clinching a maiden title.
However, despite his setback in Mexico City, Hamilton, who finished 16.5 seconds behind his Red Bull rival, said: "I left it all out there and sometimes that is not enough. We pick ourselves up, dig deeper than we have before and keep on fighting."
After Sunday's round in Brazil, Formula One will head straight to Doha for the first Qatar Grand Prix before two concluding rounds in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi on 5 December and 12 December.
"There are still four races to go," said Hamilton. "Nineteen points is a lot of points and Max has nine wins and that is a lot of wins," he said.
"If they were to carry their superior speed into the next races we may be in trouble, but I hope we will be closer.
"They have the faster car, but all I can do is try and squeeze everything out of our package, make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned, maximise what we have, and give it my all."
Verstappen's triumph took him to nine for the season, four more than Hamilton, who has only won on one occasion since the summer break in August.
Hamilton was able to take some consolation from splitting Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez at a track which plays to Red Bull's strengths.
But the 36-year-old will renew his rivalry with Verstappen this weekend at Interlagos – the Brazilian venue which has favoured Verstappen in recent seasons.
Red Bull’s double podium finish also moved them to within just one point of Mercedes in the constructors’ race.
But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insists his superstar driver can still make history this year.
"I am a pretty realistic person, but I love motor racing because anything can happen," he said.
"None of us are leaving this circuit with the mentality that the championship is slipping away from us.
"There are four races to go, four wins to take, four DNFs to suffer and we will continue fighting.
"We know we have a great team and we have it all to win. However, when you look at the mathematical probability I would rather be 19 points ahead than behind."