As Hamilton talks in this in-depth, end-of-season interview, he is in expansive form. His inherent self-confidence is transparent, but he is also relaxed and revealing in a way that is not always the case.
In F1, his year has been all about his fight against Vettel. For 13 races over seven months it was agonisingly, thrillingly close, and then suddenly it wasn’t, and Hamilton won a title that had looked like it would go to the wire with two races still to go.
The season turned in September in Singapore, where Vettel triggered a multi-car pile-up at the first corner that took out himself, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, Verstappen and Alonso, and Hamilton guided his Mercedes through the debris to open a 28-point championship lead.
Singapore was a second costly misjudgement by Vettel, following the bizarre incident in Azerbaijan when the German deliberately drove into Hamilton’s car, thinking the Briton had ‘brake-tested’ him. As things turned out, it transformed a certain win for Vettel into fourth place.
Each incident came the race after one which Hamilton dominated from pole position – in Canada before Baku, and in Italy before Singapore. And the obvious question is whether he believes they were caused by the pressure his performances exerted on Vettel.
So, let’s ask. Vettel has had two ‘red-mist moments’…
“It’s kind of been three,” Hamilton interrupts. “But OK.”
He is referring to Mexico, when Vettel’s front wing tagged Hamilton’s rear tyre as the two of them tussled with Verstappen on the first lap, giving the Mercedes a puncture. Hamilton asked his team at the time whether it was deliberate, and clearly still believes so.
OK, so let’s say three, then. The point remains – was it pressure?
“I don’t know,” he says. “That’s difficult. Anything I say would just be an assumption.”
Hamilton turns it around to his perspective.
“Pressure points. Weak points. You just keep your foot down, keep the pressure on and when the other shows no sign of weakness… that’s definitely difficult.
“Look at Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. At some point in the game, one will see a slight weakness in the other – even if just half a per cent. That’s what they try to capitalise on and which makes the difference and that’s really how it has been this year. The key for me is to be the most solid driver here.”
Has Hamilton learned more about Vettel as a person and driver this year?
“Of course,” he replies. “I’m not going to tell you what I’ve learned but you can see it and I think you guys have learned about him.
“He shouldn’t shy away from that. He will learn from the experiences, as we all do. I have had years like that. He has had years of complete solidity like (mine) this year as well. I imagine next year he’s going to be coming back guns blazing.
“But I don’t feel there’s anything I can’t achieve if I put the work in. How I strategise over these next months into next season…. When you watch Usain Bolt out of the start blocks, he’s just a little bit slower than the others. So he’s just behind and then he creeps back.
“That’s really how my season’s been. When he backs off at the end; that’s always the goal for anyone.”