MONACO (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton staked out the boundaries of Formula One's psychological battleground on Wednesday by saying he would not seek to play with title rival Sebastian Vettel's mind outside of the car.
His words could, however, in themselves be considered part of the 'mind games' masked so far by regular declarations of mutual admiration between the two most successful current drivers.
Ferrari's Vettel, a four times world champion, heads into the weekend's showcase Monaco Grand Prix with a six point lead over Mercedes' triple title winner Hamilton after two race wins apiece in 2017.
"I take a lot of pride in the fact that I am very strong mentally and I think that's something you can admire about someone else that you're fighting, like Sebastian," Hamilton told reporters.
"He seems solid. I want him to be at his best when he gets in the car so I don't have any intention of playing psychological wars outside of the car," added the Briton.
"I want to beat him in the car because when he's at his best, and I beat him, that says what it needs to say rather than have him on the back foot."
Hamilton has spent recent years fighting his own team mate, with Mercedes dominant and Nico Rosberg his only real rival for the title.
The German retired at the end of last season, crowned champion for the first time but recognising that the mental effort required to beat Hamilton had taken a heavy toll.
Rosberg credited his use of a mental trainer, and meditation to increase concentration and be more aware of his emotions, as a key factor in his success.
Hamilton has shown he is a master of the psychological, playing on any vulnerability to gain an advantage on the racetrack, but Vettel has also shown he is a tough nut to crack.
Hamilton said the season was long and would still be fought on many levels.
"Just like golf, over 18 holes, whoever is most consistent generally ends up winning," he said. "It's an all-round battle, both physically, mentally and technically. That's why it's a great battle."
Hamilton slightly undermined his stance when asked what it was about Vettel that he particularly admired.
"His car, at the moment," he replied, before sounding a more complimentary tone.
"Of course I admire the pace and speed and sheer talent that Sebastian has," he added. "That's why I'm enjoying the battle with him. But of course his car looks pretty awesome also."
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris