Lewis Hamilton believes he could have taken the fight to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel before mechanical gremlins struck in Singapore.
Hamilton's Mercedes team, so dominant for the best part of two seasons, were curiously off the pace under the lights this weekend.
The Briton, who had started on pole in 11 of the previous 12 grands prix, qualified only fifth at the Marina Bay Circuit with Mercedes pinning the blame on their below-par display on their tyres.
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The former McLaren driver was fourth, and on a different strategy to Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen ahead of him, when he suffered a loss of power on lap 26.
Mercedes attempted to resolve the problem - but failed to find a solution. A space was cleared in Hamilton's garage and he retired for the first time this season six laps later.
But an upbeat Hamilton, now 41 points ahead of Nico Rosberg, who crossed the line in fourth, with Vettel eight points further back, believes he could have challenged the leaders.
"I am not particularly emotional," said Hamilton, who had been hoping to match Ayrton Senna's tally of 41 victories from 161 starts.
"I was feeling really good out there and so optimistic. I was on the prime tyre and I felt like I was easily keeping up with them.
"I had more pace in the car so I was getting excited about the pit stops and perhaps I could get up there.
"In my mind I think I thought I might have a chance to win this race, and then I lost power.
Speaking to the BBC, Hamilton, who at one point was 15 seconds a lap slower than Vettel, added: "I was dead last and Sebastian was pretty much half a lap ahead of me, perhaps more.
"Even if the power had come back I would have just wasted an engine. I may have got one point but I doubt it because you can not overtake here. Nonetheless, we live to fight another day."
Hamilton's Mercedes team explored numerous different engine settings in a bid to help him recover power.
But the race-ending failure was diagnosed as a loss of boost pressure caused by the failure of a small metal clamp.
Next stop, Tokyo
Hamilton will head to Tokyo on Monday ahead of next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, where Mercedes are hopeful they will be leading the way once more.
"We need to stay calm because it is a very specific circuit in the way the tyre operates differently to many other circuits," Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff said.
"I am always on the pessimistic side but I don't believe that you are losing car performance from one race weekend into the other in the dramatic way like we did, and equally I don't believe that somebody found a second and a half.
"It is the tyre. We have spoken to the drivers and the degradation is massive and unexplainable for us.
"You need to find the right balance. You cannot write it off and say it was a one-off and on the other side you cannot say we are terrified now by this because then you are going into panic mode - and that would be completely inappropriate and wrong."
Will Hamilton bounce back from this bitter disappointment to end the season on a high?
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