World championship leader Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he is having to curb his natural instinct to go for victory every time he hits the track in an effort to make sure he lands the title he so narrowly missed out on in his rookie Formula One season.
The Briton finished second to Ferrari's Felipe Massa on the streets of Valencia on Sunday and acknowledges that, while it goes against his thirst for success, the result was the best he could have achieved - and the best possible for his championship ambitions.
Having revealed that he almost didn't race because of a the painful neck spasm and 'flu-like symptoms he suffered over the weekend, Hamilton admitted that he had been unable to live with the pace of Massa's Ferrari, which won from pole position and with fastest lap, but was delighted to walk away with an extended points lead for the second race in succession.
Despite having only finished fifth after suffering a puncture in the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton benefited from the late-race retirement of Massa - who had started the race second in points - to steal an extra point's advantage, and gained similarly from Kimi Raikkonen's retirement in Valencia, after the Finn had retaken the lead pursuit spot with third in Budapest.
“Clearly, I want to win all the time, but I've learned that, sometimes, it's more advantageous to score as many points as possible and live to fight another day," Hamilton told his personal website, "My aim is still to win the world championship and you don't do that by ending up in the barriers after making an opportunistic move.
"In Valencia, we scored a very useful haul of points and I've actually come away from the weekend having extended my lead in the championship, despite losing two points to Felipe. I'm mentally strong enough to be able to deal with that – and I'm more relaxed about it too. I'm playing a long game.”
Counting Monaco among his favourite venues, and having taken his first GP win on the similar Montreal circuit last season, Hamilton was always likely to enjoy the challenge of the quick Valencia street circuit.
“I think the organisers did a great job getting it ready, and I can really see Valencia growing into a great track," he claimed, "It certainly wasn't your average street circuit – it was very flat, wide and fast, almost the complete opposite of Monaco.
“You've got to be more committed than at a normal circuit to get the maximum from the car but, at the same time, you've also got to be more cautious because you know that even the slightest error can put you in the wall. Obviously, we're not throwing the cars right into the corners where the apexes are marked by concrete barriers, but I try to get as close as possible as push as close to the limit as I can while remaining safe.
“The most difficult thing about the track was its dustiness - it was very slippery so, if you locked your brakes, you could find yourself sliding quite a bit – as I found out on a couple of occasions! But I love the concept of racing on the streets of a city – Monaco has always felt special and Valencia also had a unique feel to it. Now I'm looking forward to Singapore at the end of September – these kind of races really make Formula One exciting.”