Lewis Hamilton insists championship leader Nico Rosberg has not changed this season.
And Hamilton has implied he would be ahead of Rosberg had his car not suffered frequent unreliabilty his year.
For the first time in their four year Mercedes partnership – and indeed their karting careers as youngsters – Rosberg has held a near season-long advantage over his team-mate, winning nine races to Hamilton’s seven in 2016.
26 points ahead with just three races remaining, the German can seal a maiden title at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix and appears to have improved and matured as a driver, rarely making mistakes on his way to emphatic victories.
Lewis: I relish the toughest challenges
But Hamilton, who beat Rosberg to the title in both 2014 and 2015, was adamant that the “only difference” in their battle this year was that he has been the unlucky party.
Asked whether there had been a change in Rosberg’s character, the world champion replied: “Nope, but I’ve had a lot of failures. That’s the only difference.
“If both our cars had been reliable all year long we would have been having pretty much the same battles we had last year and the year before, so I don’t see there being any difference.”
Hamilton claimed his title hopes would be over should he face any more gearbox or engine failures in the final three races of the season, in which he has suffered multiple mechanical glitches.
Rosberg, meanwhile, has stuck to his mantra of taking one race at a time despite closing in on glory, not going further than admitting it’s a “childhood dream” to win the world championship in Thursday’s press conference.
When’s the Mexican GP on Sky F1?
“That’s obviously a tactic he’s taken on board this year that helps him focus on the job at hand,” said Hamilton. “Different people have different ways of dealing with pressure, obviously there is pressure there, and that’s the way he’s handling it.”
But can Hamilton, who won his first championship in 2008, empathise with how much pressure Rosberg is now under?
“I’m pretty sure it’s the same as going for any other world championship,” Hamilton told Sportsclubsociety News HQ’s Craig Slater. “He’s doing the job that he needs to do. I have know idea what he’s thinking and what’s in his mind, and I can’t really get tangled up in that because it doesn’t really matter to me.”
The season is heading into a frantic finish, starting in Mexico City, with Hamilton sure he needs to find his best-ever form and win all three races to stand a chance of denying his team-mate in a dramatic turnaround.
But unlike in previous years, the Mercedes duo have been much more respectful each other both before and after a grand prix. And Rosberg admitted that while the relationship remains intense thanks to the successive title battles, it has improved a lot.
“Of course it’s intense,” Hamilton said. “But at the same time there’s an easy-going side lately.”
Don’t miss the Mexican GP on Sunday evening. The race is live at 7pm on Sportsclubsociety F1; Watch with a NOW TV day pass – £6.99, no contract