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Lewis Hamilton bemoaned a "very difficult" start to his Malaysian Grand Prix weekend as title rival Sebastian Vettel set the pace at Sepang.

Vettel is now 28 points behind Hamilton in the fight for the title after the Briton's hat-trick of wins, but the German shone here.

"I think we have a lot of races left". I can relate to that, and one of the most important things in the United States is that you have the right to express an opinion.

Verstappen managed just 11 laps but his best at 1min 48.962sec was 0.757sec quicker than Ricciardo.

Alonso told Sky Sports F1 that if Vettel wants to remain in the title race then the German can not make anymore mistakes.

The poor performance of the Mercedes came as a major surprise - the two leading cars were expected to be evenly matched on this track, with Mercedes perhaps having a slight edge as a result of its superior aerodynamic efficiency on a circuit with a number of long-duration corners and two sizeable straights.

Raikkonen, who qualified second in Sepang, was wiped out of the Singapore Grand Prix within seconds of the start as he collided with Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel after making a lightning-fast getaway.

"The lap time is the reality", he said.

The German team have struggled all weekend with what Mercedes boss Toto Wolff on Saturday described as a "capricious" auto. "They fixed it quickly and it's a shame I couldn't get out. but we go tomorrow".

"We had no idea what was going to happen today", said Hamilton, who had endured a torrid Friday as his Mercedes took a dislike to an aerodynamic upgrade package and he finished sixth in both practice sessions. His Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was second, six-tenths of a second adrift.

"Today we arrived and the auto was much better, but still I think it looked like the Ferraris were a little bit ahead".

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This season has been in contrast to the previous three where Mercedes were supremely dominant over the rest of the field - only two races were won by non-Mercedes drivers in 2016. "I didn't sleep very well, just like all my engineers as well, because we didn't know whether we would fix the issue or not".

The Red Bulls and Bottas were not close enough to challenge Hamilton, but unusually, the championship leader was unable to improve his initital time.

Mistakes on some level are unavoidable but the severity of Vettel sandwiching Red Bull's Max Verstappen in Singapore can not be underestimated in terms of the title.

Vettel also said he was unmoved by the strong criticism of his driving which emerged after Singapore, particularly by the partisan Italian media.