Despite a remarkably cordial start to this year's championship battle, Lewis Hamilton said his relationship with Sebastian Vettel would have been very different if their light contact at the Spanish Grand Prix had been a heavier collision.
Hamilton and Vettel experienced their first wheel-to-wheel battle of the season at the Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday, rubbing wheels on lap 38 as the Ferrari exited the pits just ahead of the Mercedes. Hamilton's immediate reaction over team radio was to say "that was dangerous", but by the time he had passed Vettel for the lead six laps later and arrived in the post-race press conference as the winner, his opinion on the incident had mellowed.
So far this year, Vettel and Hamilton have maintained a good relationship outside their cars, congratulating each other after races and joking in press conferences. But Hamilton said a different outcome to the wheel-to-wheel racing in Spain would have changed the dynamic between the two.
"It was a very close battle today and if it had gone in a different direction, it would have been different between us," he said. "You know how racing goes. If he had hit me in Turn 1 and had won the race, it would not have been 'great job, Sebastian'.
"It was aggressive but I was still able to remain in the fight, fortunately. Ultimately, I avoided the collision, but I love a tough fight. I love a challenge.
"He was respectful, and still that respect stayed the same but I think you could sense he was angry. He said he was angry.
"He drove a fantastic race, but I can also understand how he feels. You are never happy if you finish second. If he finished second and was happy, I'd be concerned because that is not why we exists to do."
Hamilton heads to the Monaco Grand Prix with a six point deficit to Vettel, meaning a victory on the street circuit would give him the lead of the championship regardless of where Vettel finishes. But at this stage of the season, Hamilton says the key to winning the title is consistency and not risking it all for the win.
"In my mind, it is not the most important thing. For me, it is about consistency. You can get ahead in one race and then go behind in the next.
"For me it is about consistency and taking that form from this weekend into the 15 races that we have left. It is whoever is the most consistent. It does not matter if I am leading the championship after the next race.
"What matters is that I am leading the championship after the last race, that's my thought process."