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