Lewis Hamilton says he will still go into the Singapore Grand Prix bidding to challenge for victory, but admits the size of the surprisingly large deficit to Sebastian Vettel out front makes it unlikely it will be bridged overnight.

The championship leader saw his streak of pole positions come to an abrupt end around the Marina Bay Circuit as both he and Nico Rosberg struggled to get grip from the tyres over a single lap.

A startling drop in fortunes for Mercedes given its record of claiming all but one pole position since the start of the 2014 season, Hamilton's unusual positioning is highlighted further by the mammoth 1.5secs deficit to Vettel in front, as well as a margin to both Red Bulls and Kimi Raikkonen too.

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Baffled by his failure to get the Mercedes to work on the both sets of tyres this weekend, Hamilton - who heads into the race with a 53 point lead over Rosberg in the standings - nonetheless welcomed the challenge as 'a bit exciting'.

"Tyres," he told Sky Sports when asked to explain the margin. "I don't know what we have got wrong, but big congratulations to the guys up ahead. To be honest it is a bit exciting to be having that fight. It is the first time we have gone into qualifying pulling even more out of the car if we can and therefore sometimes making mistakes.

"It was really challenging. These tyres, for some reason, aren't working on our car, it's so weird. You heat them up the same as everyone else and then you finish your lap where you think you have OK grip and then you see someone a second up the road, so it is very strange."

Refuting the suggestion that the recent wrangle over tyre pressures have compromised the Mercedes' set-up, Hamilton says he remains optimistic for the race, but admits it is a sizeable margin to make up overnight.

"The goal is to win the race, but overtaking is very difficult here. The others, particularly the Red Bulls, were very quick on the long runs. We will fight as hard as we can, but I doubt we will find something between now and tomorrow."