FOR HAMIL­TON

New Straits Times - - Sport -

lead­ing four-time cham­pion be­fore ar­riv­ing in the Mediter­ranean prin­ci­pal­ity for their clas­sic street cir­cuit show­down.

Fac­ing a fur­ther 15 races, he made clear he be­lieved his longterm per­for­mance this year, his ex­pe­ri­ence and his men­tal strength will stand him in good stead as the sea­son un­folds.

He showed clearly his rel­ish for the fight in his first ses­sion when he topped the times in a best lap of one minute and 13.425 sec­onds, us­ing Pirelli’s ul­tra-soft tyre, a time that was quick enough to dis­miss Mercedes’ fears of be­ing dis­ad­van­taged by hav­ing the long­est wheel-base car in the field.

The pair showed that Mercedes and Fer­rari are again likely to be very closely-matched this week­end with Valt­teri Bot­tas fourth­fastest for Mercedes be­tween the im­pres­sive Red Bulls of Dutch teenager Max Ver­stap­pen and Aus­tralia’s Daniel Ric­cia­rdo.

That ses­sion ran with­out in­ci­dent, but the sec­ond was in­ter­rupted by a red flag to halt the ac­tion when Este­ban Ocon hit the bar­ri­ers on en­try to­wards Casino Square in his Force In­dia.

This re­sulted in a six-minute stop­page with half an hour to go — and Hamil­ton, at that time, down in eighth, strug­gling for space and time on track, and more than a sec­ond down on Vet­tel, who had low­ered the tar­get lap to 1:12.720, nearly half a sec­ond clear of Ric­cia­rdo.

He was un­able to im­prove his po­si­tion, but re­mained calm, be­liev­ing in his team’s ca­pac­ity for re­cov­ery and his own dura­bil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I take a lot of pride in the fact I am very strong men­tally,” said Hamil­ton. “I think that’s some­thing you can ad­mire when bat­tling some­one else — like Se­bas­tian or Fernando Alonso.”

Much ma­tured since the days when he al­lowed his frus­tra­tions to show in rash com­ments and ac­tions, Hamil­ton ac­knowl­edged that men­tal strength was likely to be a key fac­tor as his bid for a fourth ti­tle un­folded.

“It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be part of it this year,” he said. “For both of us... It’s such a long year, just like it is in golf, over 18 holes.

“Who­ever is the most con­sis­tent gen­er­ally ends up win­ning. I am ex­cited about that. It’s an all­round bat­tle, phys­i­cally, men­tally, tech­ni­cally — and I think that’s why it’s a great bat­tle.” AFP

AFP PIC

Fer­rari’s Kimi Raikko­nen driv­ing dur­ing the sec­ond prac­tice ses­sion at the Monaco street cir­cuit in Monaco on Thurs­day.

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