Lewis Hamilton backs Sebastian Vettel to emerge as his true challenger

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Lewis Hamilton has tipped Sebastian Vettel to bounce back from the latest in his expanding catalogue of mistakes.

Vettel spun out of contention while battling for second position with Hamilton in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

It marked the fourth time in his last 10 appearances that the Ferrari driver has lost control of his car while duelling with a rival.

He also crashed out of the lead 13 races ago in Germany, and will head into the next round in China a week on Sunday on a 231-day winless streak.

The emergence of Charles Leclerc as a championship contender – a late engine problem denying the young Ferrari driver his maiden win – also added to Vettel’s woes in Bahrain.

But Hamilton, who took advantage of Leclerc’s late demise to win for a 74th time, said: “Sebastian is a true world champion, a great athlete and he will recover.

“Just because you are a multiple world champion, it doesn’t mean you are not going to have off-weekends. It happens to all of us.

“If you look at his career, he has had stunning performances that far outweigh his weaker races. For example, when he has spun, they are minuscule on the status he has accumulated and created in the sport.”

Despite Hamilton’s vote of confidence for the man he has beaten to the championship in each of the past two seasons, Nico Rosberg was rather more disparaging about his compatriot.

Rosberg, the only driver to stop Hamilton from winning the title since 2013, said: “Vettel is continuing to do what he did last year, messing up again, and spinning around in a battle. It’s unbelievable that it keeps on happening to him.”

Indeed, the pressure is growing on Vettel after he was outclassed by team-mate Leclerc.

Leclerc demolished Vettel in qualifying and, after a poor start, got the better of his four-time world champion team-mate with a fine passing move.

Vettel, however, insists he is not feeling the heat. “It had nothing to do with pressure,” the German said as he explained his spin. “I was fighting with Lewis and the target was to stay ahead.

“It was a difficult race, so, on my side, there is plenty of homework. I am not happy today, and I will not be happy tonight.”

Vettel’s Ferrari team will, however, be pleased with their showing in Bahrain, reversing their poor display at the season opener in Australia. They will head to Shanghai for the next round expected to maintain their advantage over Mercedes.

Hamilton admitted: “We were outperformed this weekend.”