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Lewis Hamilton: Mental strength was key to beating Vettel to title

Even by his high standards, 2017 has been a remarkable year for Lewis Hamilton.


Story highlights

  • Hamilton reveals secrets of winning record fourth F1 world title
  • Mercedes driver beat Sebastian Vettel in 2017 championship

(CNN)Even by his high standards, 2017 has been a remarkable year for Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver clinched his fourth world title with two races to spare at the end of October after a series of dominant displays behind the wheel.

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    Hamilton's sublime speed in qualifying and race craft has drawn plaudits from every corner of the F1 paddock, but the Briton believes it was his psychological edge over Sebastian Vettel that ultimately helped him defeat the Ferrari driver.

    "The mental side of things was key to this year," Hamilton told CNN's The Circuit.

    Losing the championship last year enabled me to be the driver and the man I am today

    Lewis Hamilton

    "That really is the case for a lot of top athletes competing. It's the smallest thing, we're talking about small percentages. I think that's really, for me, been the biggest difference between us."

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    The pair were tightly matched for much of 2017, with Vettel holding the upper hand for the first half of the season before Hamilton unleashed a blistering run of form, winning five times in six races to turn a 14-point deficit into a 66-point lead in the space of eight weeks.

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Vettel vs. Hamilton – Lewis Hamilton (left) and Sebastian Vettel have been battling on track all season. Click through the gallery to see how the 2017 Formula One season has played out.

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Melbourne: First blood to Vettel – The German took the checkered flag at the season opener in Melbourne leaving Hamilton and the Briton's new Mercedes teammate -- Valtteri Bottas -- trailing in his wake.

    Drivers' title race after round 1
    Vettel 25 points
    Hamilton 18 points
    Bottas 15 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Shanghai: Hamilton fights back – Hamilton pats his Mercedes car after it propelled him to victory at the Shanghai International Circuit. It was his fifth career win in China and saw the Briton draw level on points with Vettel who came home second. Red Bull's Max Verstappen was third.

    Drivers' title race after round 2
    Vettel 43 points
    Hamilton 43 points
    Bottas 23 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Sakhir: Vettel shines under the lights – Vettel prevailed in Bahrain after Bottas had claimed a maiden pole in qualifying. During the race Hamilton was handed a five-second stop-go penalty for holding up Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in the pit lane. Vettel took full advantage eventually cruising to a comfortable win.

    Drivers' title race after round 3
    Vettel 68 points
    Hamilton 61 points
    Bottas 38 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Sochi: Bottas scores maiden win – After claiming a first-ever pole in Bahrain, Bottas (far right) soared to a maiden F1 victory at the Russian Grand Prix. A fast start enabled the Finn to overtake the two Ferraris at the front of the grid. Vettel chased Bottas hard all the way to the line to claim second. Hamilton finished fourth.

    Drivers' title race after round 4
    Vettel 86 points
    Hamilton 73 points
    Bottas 63 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Barcelona: Hamilton reigns in Spain – After missing out on a podium in Russia, Hamilton roared back to the top step at the Spanish Grand Prix. The Briton was overtaken by Vettel at the start but Hamilton fought back, dramatically overtaking his title rival later in the race to take the checkered flag. Red Bull's Ricciardo took third -- his first podium of the season after Bottas suffered an engine failure.

    Drivers' title race after round 5
    Vettel 104 points
    Hamilton 98 points
    Bottas 63 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Monte Carlo: Vettel takes third win of season – Vettel's teammate Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first pole in nine years at Saturday's qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix but it was the German who prevailed in the race after the Finn had led in the early stages. Vettel assumed the lead after pitting slightly later than the Finn and never looked back. Ricciardo finished third with Bottas fourth. Hamilton, meanwhile, who had started 13th on the grid, finished the race in sixth.

    Drivers' title race after round 6
    Vettel 129 points
    Hamilton 104 points
    Bottas 75 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Montreal: Hamilton cuts Vettel's lead – After a disappointing showing at Monaco, Hamilton produced a driving masterclass in Montreal. In qualifying, he took his 65th career pole -- equaling Ayrton Senna's mark -- before bossing the race, crossing the line 20 seconds ahead of teammate Bottas while Ricciardo pipped Vettel to third.

    Drivers' title race after round 7
    Vettel 141 points
    Hamilton 129 points
    Bottas 93 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Baku: Stroll makes history as title rivals clash – A chaotic race in Azerbaijan saw both Vettel and Hamilton miss the podium for the first time in 2017. The pair clashed on track during a Safety Car period from which Ricciardo ultimately profited. The Aussie's unlikely win was the fifth of his career, while Williams' teenager driver Lance Stroll (right) took third to become the youngest F1 rookie ever to make the podium.

    Drivers' title race after round 8
    Vettel 153 points
    Hamilton 139 points
    Bottas 111 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Spielberg: Bottas scores second win – Bottas gave another example of why Mercedes chose him to replace Nico Rosberg at the German team. The Finn dominated the Austrian Grand Prix weekend -- qualifying in pole before keeping Vettel at bay in the race. Hamilton who started from eighth on the grid battled back to fourth.

    Drivers' title race after round 9
    Vettel 171 points
    Hamilton 151 points
    Bottas 136 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Silverstone: Hamilton dominates home race – Hamilton was simply unstoppable at the British Grand Prix, qualifying more than half-a-second quicker than the Ferraris before delighting home fans with a commanding win. Both Vettel and teammate Raikkonen suffered punctures late in the race. Raikkonen recovered to finish third, but Vettel could only manage seventh, slashing his championship lead over Hamilton to a single point.

    Drivers' title race after round 10
    Vettel 177 points
    Hamilton 176 points
    Bottas 154 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Budapest: Vettel bounces back – Another race, another twist as this time Ferrari took the honors with Vettel leading teammate Raikkonen home, followed by the two Mercedes. Hamilton finished fourth after letting Bottas through for the final podium spot -- the Finn had let the Brit past earlier in what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid to chase down the two Ferraris.

    Drivers' title race after round 11
    Vettel 202 points
    Hamilton 188 points
    Bottas 169 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Spa: Hamilton makes F1 history – Hamilton equaled Michael Schumacher's all-time pole record of 68 at the Belgian Grand Prix and then fended off a challenge from Vettel in the final 10 laps to take the checkered flag and his third career victory at Spa Francorchamps.

    Drivers' title race after round 12
    Vettel 220 points
    Hamilton 213 points
    Bottas 179 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Monza: Hamilton wins in Ferrari's back yard – After trailing Vettel all season, Hamilton finally got his nose in front in the drivers' championship showing a zen-like composure at the Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari, however, had a weekend to forget on home soil. A poor qualifying in wet conditions was followed by a frustrating race. Vettel did squeak onto the podium behind the Mercedes duo, but his title lead had slipped away.

    Drivers' title race after round 13
    Hamilton 238 points
    Vettel 235 points
    Bottas 197 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Marina Bay Street Circuit: Ferrari crashes out – Disaster strikes for Ferrari in Singapore as both Vettel and Raikkonen crash out on the opening lap -- Raikkonen hit his teammate after colliding with Max Verstappen at the start. Lewis Hamilton, who started from fifth, avoids trouble and quickly assumes the lead which he holds to the checkered flag. The win, his third at the Singapore GP extends the Briton's lead over Vettel to 28 points.

    Drivers' title race after round 14
    Hamilton 263 points
    Vettel 235 points
    Bottas 212 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Sepang International Circuit: Verstappen makes more history – Max Verstappen celebrates after a superb victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver had endured a miserable run of luck in 2017 with seven retirements in the 14 previous grands prix. But any disappointment was banished in Malaysia as he sped to a second career F1 win. The Dutchman, who turned 20 on September 30, was already the youngest-ever F1 race winner. With victory in Malaysia he is now the second youngest winner too.

    Lewis Hamilton was a distant second to Verstappen with Daniel Ricciardo finishing third. Sebastian Vettel crossed the line in fourth after starting in last place, which all means that Hamilton extends his championship lead over Vettel to 34 points.

    Drivers' title race after round 15
    Hamilton 281 points
    Vettel 247 points
    Bottas 222 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Suzuka: Hamilton closes in on fourth title – Lewis Hamilton took a giant step towards a fourth world title at the Japanese Grand Prix. The Briton led from start to finish to scoop his eighth win of the season while Sebastian Vettel suffered a DNF, limping out with engine issues at the start of the race. The Red Bull pairing of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed another good weekend, finishing second and third respectively.

    Hamilton's victory means he now has a 59-point lead with four races remaining and will clinch the 2017 drivers' championship if he outscores Vettel by 16 points at the US Grand Prix in Austin on October 22.

    Drivers' title race after round 16
    Hamilton 306 points
    Vettel 247 points
    Bottas 234 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Circuit of the Americas: Hamilton sprints to victory – Lewis Hamilton wins his fifth race in six grands prix to extend his lead to 66 points over Sebastian Vettel. The German finished second and still has a mathematical chance of winning the 2017 world championship, but Hamilton could wrap up the title at the Mexico Grand Prix on October 29.

    Drivers' title race after round 17
    Hamilton 331 points
    Vettel 265 points
    Bottas 244 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez: Hamilton makes history – Lewis Hamilton wins the 2017 world championship to claim his fourth F1 title. The Mercedes driver finished ninth to secure the two points he needed to guarantee Vettel could not catch him in the last two races. After the two collided at the start of the race, Vettel fought back to eventually finish second behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Hamilton was ninth. Verstappen's third F1 win was overshadowed by the towering achievements of Hamilton who became the most successful British driver of all time and only the fifth man in F1 history to win four world championships.

    Drivers' title race after round 18
    Hamilton 333 points
    Vettel 277 points
    Bottas 262 points

    Photos: The story of the 2017 season ...

    Interlagos: Vettel back to winning ways – Sebastian Vettel hadn't won a race since the Hungarian Grand Prix in July. In the intervening period between then and the Mexico Grand Prix, he squandered a 14-point lead and lost sight of Lewis Hamilton as the Briton sped away to a fourth world title. In Brazil, Vettel triumphed once again to record his fifth win of the season and the 47th of his career. Hamilton started the race in last place after crashing out of qualifying early on, but stormed through the field to finish fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen and second-placed Valtteri Bottas.

    Drivers' title race after round 19
    Hamilton 345 points
    Vettel 302 points
    Bottas 280 points

    Vettel and Ferrari didn't exactly help themselves at times. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June, Vettel was hit with a 10-second penalty for deliberately bumping into the side of Hamilton's car after he claimed the Briton had brake tested him during a period behind the safety car.

    He and teammate Kimi Raikkonen dramatically crashed into one another at Singapore Grand Prix and then Vettel was forced to retire in Japan with a spark plug failure shortly after the start of the race.

    READ: Senna's legacy to Brazil's youth

    READ: Hamilton says teammates robbed in Brazil

    'Good energy'

    The sensational reversal in fortunes ultimately earned Hamilton the title, banishing the disappointments of the previous season when he lost out in a bitter battle with then teammate Nico Rosberg.

    Defeat to his arch rival still rankles on one level but, on another, Hamilton has been able to see the rivalry's merits as part of a bigger learning curve during his five years at Mercedes.

    READ: Hamilton has 'come of age'

    "I think I came to the team with a good energy but my work ethic is so much better today -- so I would have applied that at the beginning," he said.

    "I probably would have five championships right now, but I wouldn't change it for the world. Losing the championship last year enabled me to be the driver and the man I am today."

    Hamilton insists that he didn't learn from how Rosberg went about his business last year. "No. Zero," was his swift reply when asked.

    "I'd say probably the only teammate I've ever really learned something from would have been Fernando (Alonso) -- it was my first year in F1," he said, referring to his teammate at McLaren in 2007.

    "After that, I would say I was able to have the experience, so I never felt I was taking anything from another driver. I was just always trying to enhance and unlock my own abilities."

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    Chasing Schumacher

    A decade on from his rookie season, Hamilton's experience has propelled him into rarefied F1 territory.

    He is the first British driver to win four world titles and is only the fifth driver in history to achieve the feat, joining Vettel, Alain Prost, five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio, and Michael Schumacher, who claimed seven.


    Viviane Senna on her brother Ayrton's legacy 03:58

    Aged 32, the German's benchmark is realistically within the Briton's grasp, but Hamilton is coy about his prospects.

    "I'm not thinking about that. I can't envisage me being around for seven but I also can't say never," he said.

    "You've just got to enjoy the ones you have ... I can't believe that I've got four. Of course I want to win more but if I don't win another championship would that be the end of my life? No. I'm gonna do other great things."

    For now, it's time to bask in the glow of a historic year when he secured his place among the all-time F1 greats and earned the adulation of his peers.

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    "The respect I have received from certain drivers is something I really, really appreciate because naturally you want to be respected by your peers ... because I have that respect for other people that I race with," he said.

    "To hear that reflected and reciprocated, that's a great feeling."