Belfast Telegraph

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Lewis Hamilton loving mental battle with Vettel


By Philip Duncan

Lewis Hamilton insists he is relishing the psychological warfare of his Formula One Championship battle with Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton is 17 points clear of his rival ahead of the sport's final round before the summer break, in Hungary tomorrow.

The Englishman (33) holds the mental edge over Vettel following the Ferrari driver's fourth, and biggest, mistake of the year when he crashed out from the lead in Germany last Sunday.

Hamilton's remarkable victory in Vettel's back yard moved him to the summit of the standings to mark the fifth change of Championship leader this season.

For the first time in the hybrid era, Ferrari, who are sporting a black stripe on their cars this weekend in memory of chairman Sergio Marchionne who died suddenly on Wednesday, boast the strongest package.

That was again on show in practice as Vettel topped the time sheets with Hamilton fifth.

By his own admission, the Briton has not been at his very best this year, but it is his lack of mistakes, and flashes of once-in-a-generation brilliance, that ensure he remains the favourite to clinch a fifth crown.

"The psychological game in sport is the hardest thing," Hamilton said. "You don't see me away from the track. I wake up with insecurities.

"The most demanding thing is keeping your mind in the game from the first race in March right through to November, and arriving at every race 100 per cent.

"I haven't hit the nail on the head at every weekend this year, but the pressures are huge.

"It has swung more in Ferrari's direction so I am having to over-deliver. The pressure to extract every ounce is greater than ever if I want to be No.1.

"That is not something I am fazed by, but something that excites me. I have always felt at my best under pressure."

Vettel, but for his mistakes, should be leading this Championship. He dropped from second to fourth after running off the road in Azerbaijan.

He collided with Valtteri Bottas in France and was demoted five places on the grid at the ensuing race in Austria after blocking another driver in qualifying.

Last weekend, with Hamilton catching him, Vettel threw away a certain 25 points.

"It is closer than last year, so mistakes are even more costly," Hamilton added. "I work to position myself mentally and physically so I am the last to crack."

There have, however, been signs of the intensity getting to Hamilton. He wildly accused Ferrari of playing dirty at Silverstone (Kimi Raikkonen collided with him on the first lap), while his reaction after his car broke down in qualifying last weekend was as if he had lost the title.

"In the here and now the great achievements are not recognised how they should be," his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said.

"In five or 10 years, we will look back and say we were part of an amazing driver's journey."

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