Lewis Hamilton aimed a jibe at Sebastian Vettel after the German joked his rival did not have to overtake anyone en route to winning his fourth world championship.
Hamilton, 32, arrives here in Abu Dhabi for the final round of the season hoping to see out the year in style after he beat Vettel to the title with three rounds to spare.
Hamilton and Vettel were locked in an intense battle for much of the year with the Yas Marina circuit expected to be the venue for this season’s championship decider.
But Vettel’s fight sensationally imploded during the second half of the campaign, while Hamilton roared to victory at five of the six grands prix following the summer break, to all but seal his fourth title.
Hamilton – a winner of nine races this year compared to Vettel’s six – can also boast to having passed Vettel twice this season – at May’s Spanish Grand Prix and in America last month – both of which led to the Mercedes driver winning the race. In stark contrast, Vettel has failed to make a move stick on his rival once.
Asked to recall his favourite pass of the season, Hamilton said: “I have a very bad memory, so I don’t remember much before last month’s race in Austin.”
Vettel, sitting to Hamilton’s right, interrupted. “There isn’t much to remember when you don’t have to pass that many people,” he said, implying that Hamilton’s super-quick Mercedes had helped to ease his path to championship glory.
Hamilton bit back. “I passed you a couple of times,” he replied. “They were the exciting ones. The closer races we had were the ones I enjoyed the most.”
In a playful press conference, Hamilton and Vettel also reflected on their biggest flashpoint of the season in Baku.
Vettel deliberately banged wheels with Hamilton after he wrongfully believed his rival had brake-tested him. The Ferrari driver was penalised during the race and later hauled in front of the FIA, with the governing body warning him over his future conduct.
Vettel joked: “I should get Move of the Year, Personality of the Year, and what was the last award? Fair play? OK, maybe not that one, but the first two for Baku.”
Vettel ended his four-month losing streak with victory in Brazil a fortnight ago as Hamilton recovered from last to fourth after he crashed out of qualifying.
But the Englishman, who was given a guard of honour by the throngs of Mercedes employees at the team’s Northamptonshire bases in Brackley and Brixworth earlier this week, has promised to go out with a bang in Abu Dhabi.
“We have this battle of wanting to get ahead of each other, so I am extremely driven this weekend to try and finish the season off as strongly as I have been in the second half of the year,” Hamilton added. “Sebastian won the last race and I don’t want to give him this one.
“So, I am hoping to have a good battle, and I am approaching this race and giving it everything as if I am still fighting for the championship.”
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel agreed on Thursday that next season’s halo racing cars will be uglier, but safer – and joked about their on-track clashes during this year’s world title tussle.
The two four-time champions spoke at a news conference ahead of this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where the 32-year-old Briton is hoping to claim his 10th win of the season for Mercedes.
Vettel, who won the Brazilian Grand Prix two weekends ago, aims to beat him and secure runners-up spot in his Ferrari.
Both were in a light-hearted mood with Hamilton suggesting he is aiming for a fifth title next year when, according to a grinning Vettel, he and Ferrari will enjoy a “walk in the park” if they can match or improve on their progress in 2017.
But they were serious about the future looks and safety of the cars they will race.
“It’s the last time where the cars will look good,” said Hamilton, looking ahead to this weekend’s race.
“I think, from next year, it’s all downhill in terms of how it looks, but safety will go up at least.”
Vettel agreed: “I think the cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand I think it’s something we will all get used to…
“It’s no doubt the cars look better the way they are now, but I’m sure that we’ll get used to it. We’ll work on the aesthetics so that it will look fine. In the end it’s probably less of a big deal.”
F1 is introducing the ‘halo’, a cockpit protection device, to prevent flying debris hitting the drivers.
The two rivals also reflected on the season past.
Asked to choose their highlights, Vettel smiled and suggested they “start with Baku – break the ice?” Hamilton responded with an audible “Hmmmm… Baku is a good one.”
It was in Baku that a volatile Vettel drove his Ferrari into Hamilton’s Mercedes while they were under Safety Car conditions.
Hamilton added: “We need more races like Barcelona, wheel to wheel…”
Driving through the exit of Yas Marina Circuit having been forced to retire in last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a disappointed Valtteri Bottas was under no illusions on what the next stage of his career would present.
Still under the safety net of another year on his Williams contract, he received a call from Mercedes boss Toto Wolff a week after the race to discuss the prospect of taking over the vacant seat following the retirement of Nico Rosberg.
After four winless seasons at Williams, the Finn decided to take on the biggest challenge of his career and sign a one-year contract with Mercedes. With just nine podiums from 78 races, his mantelpiece barely shone with accolades, now a vast contrast to his achievements over the past eight months for the Silver Arrow where he is currently third in the drivers’ standings.
Speaking to Sport360° at the Hugo Boss store in Mall of the Emirates ahead of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Bottas said: “I had high hopes for this amazing year. It was full of opportunities. It was my first year with a new team. I was hoping to fight for the title but Lewis had already won it so it didn’t happen this year.
“I was very proud to win a constructors’ championship, though, and also to get my first two wins and hopefully a third this weekend.”