Mind games welcomed by Lewis Hamilton ahead of Formula 1 title run-in

Lewis Hamilton insists he is relishing the psychological warfare of his Formula 1 championship battle with Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton signs autographs for fans on the Hungaroring circuit. (Zoltan Balogh/AP)

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

To date, 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.

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Hamilton’s remarkable victory in Vettel’s backyard moved him to the top 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, boasts the strongest package.

That was again on show in practice as Vettel topped the time sheets with Hamilton only a distant 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 world crown.

“The psychological game in sport is the hardest thing,” said Hamilton. “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 the 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.

“The demand on myself and Sebastian is higher than ever. 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 No1 at the end.

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 in the slippery conditions, Vettel threw away a certain 25 points.

“It is closer than last year, so the smallest mistakes are more costly,” Hamilton added. “I take pride in being a perfectionist and not making mistakes.”

There have, however, been signs of the intensity getting to Hamilton. He 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 week was as if he had lost the title.

In a deleted Instagram post, he then said he did not get the credit he deserved from Sky Sports for his comeback fight from 14th to first last Sunday.

“Positive headlines don’t sell newspapers, and don’t generate clicks,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “In the here and now the great achievements are not recognised how they should be.”