I am already the moral winner - Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has underlined his sense of superiority at Mercedes by claiming that he would still feel like a moral victor even if his team-mate Nico Rosberg should win a first world title in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.
"Maybe I ought to keep this private, but I feel a certain way in my heart about how I have performed," he said. "If he is labelled the world champion, it doesn't necessarily mean that is the way it is labelled in my heart."
Even by Hamilton's standards of needling, it was provocative. There has been conflict between the pair ever since they were drawn together at Mercedes, but the stakes of this weekend's confrontation in the Gulf has thrown the tension into its sharpest relief yet.
Describing the differences between their racing styles, the reigning champion suggested that Rosberg tended to celebrate victories that he had not fully earned. He made a barbed reference to last year's Monaco Grand Prix, which the German won after the team botched Hamilton's final pit stop.
"I generally want to win because I'm the best," he said. "I want to pass you because I'm better, because I've outsmarted you. I don't want to have any victory where it has been given to me. There's nothing heroic about that. There's nothing in that for me, but for other people there is. Monaco in 2015 was really strange for me, because I thought, 'Dude, you didn't earn that win, and yet you're the happiest'."
Having trailed Rosberg by 43 points after the Japanese Grand Prix, he argued that a fourth world title would represent the finest feat of his career.
"It would be my greatest achievement by far," he said, while hinting that there were still sub-plots to this year's campaign that he was desperate to air in public. "I get excited about the thought that, one day, I can talk about this year. There are so many thoughts I have on my mind, which I can't share with you just yet."
It is likely the intrigue centres upon an internal shake-up at Mercedes, where several of his most trusted mechanics were transferred to Rosberg's side of the garage.
Hamilton served an early notice of intent yesterday, finishing fastest in the first practice session. Next in his sights is a 61st pole position, which would edge him closer to Michael Schumacher's record of 68. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Abu Dhabi GP, Tomorrow, Sky Sports F1 & Channel 4, 1.0