Trouble again for Hamilton, but he is unfazed
World champion forced to end second practice early, but vows to fight for pole
With 25 minutes left on the clock, the lead Mercedes car surprisingly slowed into the pitlane and entered the garage.
Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton glanced briefly at the data screen, got out and left shaking his head.
It had all looked fine when the crew had gone through the checklist before the second practice session of the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix got under way last night at the Marina Bay street circuit.
But after Hamilton retired earlier than expected, there is palpable concern among his crew over what turned out to be a hydraulic problem.
This time last year, Hamilton's team of the garage were optimistic of their chances but, as practice and qualifying went by, their hopes faded away.
In the end, the Englishman could only qualify fifth and was forced to retire on race day after a power unit problem.
He is now locked in a bitter battle with teammate Nico Rosberg and leads the drivers' title by a thin margin of two points.
With the German locking up only a couple of times in the twisty Marina Bay circuit but still posting the fastest time in an otherwise trouble-free Friday night, it is not looking good for Hamilton.
Team boss Toto Wolfe was at least relieved that one of his Mercedes cars held off the charging Red Bulls and Ferraris.
But it was of little comfort for the triple world champion.
Hamilton said later the problem was a small valve in the hydraulic system, and it won't stop him from fighting for pole in qualifying tonight.
"It is a little bit of a disadvantage, but it is nothing that we can't handle," the 31-year-old said.
"We've missed whole practice sessions before and managed them. My Fridays are so so, but Saturday is the most important to get into the groove."
Hamilton added that snatching pole in Singapore during qualifying was the main goal and the team had to be at their best to be able to fight for a win on race day.
On the upside, the team seem to have fixed the problems that plagued them last year, when Ferrari and Red Bull denied Mercedes the podium.
Said Hamilton: "We knew straight away when the car went out that it is a lot different compared to last year, when we had really low downforce and were sliding a lot.
"This time we got a lot of grip and that is a plus."
But the rest of the top five places in practice pose a daunting threat to Hamilton's quest for pole, with the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo separating the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
"We got a real fight in our hands," said Hamilton.
"This is an incredibly tough circuit, 23 corners and very long to get everything right to do a lap here. Plus it is incredibly bumpy.
"It is challenging, but physically and mentally on a scale that is a little bit more than Monaco."