Lewis Hamilton may be a Formula One rookie, but there is nothing to suggest he is still 'wet behind the ears' as his side-by-side duel with team-mate Fernando Alonso at the US Grand Prix proved.

Having endured pressure from the double world champion throughout the first half of Sunday's race, Hamilton's slight mistake entering lap 39 allowed Alonso to close in and draw alongside as the pair raced into turn one. Others with less mental fortitude may have buckled under the sudden pressure, but Hamilton showed the benefit of the racecraft he has picked up since he began karting at the age of eight as he defended his lead.

"I realised that I lost a bit of time through turn nine," he said later, "I just lost the back end, and that allowed Fernando to get close enough to slipstream me down the straight. I was a bit nervous about that when I saw that he was coming, but I knew I had to make sure that I made one move and made it stick. I moved into the inside and I knew that, as long as I braked late - I knew where I had to brake, so as long as I braked there - he would stay behind.

"But then, obviously, he was on me for the next few corners, before I was able to break again. It's such a tough circuit - when you lose a bit of time through the last couple of corners, that's it, you're really open to being overtaken. He would always catch me down the straight and so, whatever I gained midfield, I lost on the straight, so it was very very tough."

Hamilton admitted that the end of the race had seemed interminable, but said that he drew strength from a crowd that, British members aside, appeared to have taken him to their hearts.

"Obviously, it was great to see that there was a big crowd here and they're all very very supportive," he noted, "There were a lot of British flags out there, which is fantastic for me. I got a lot of energy from that, especially in the last few laps.

"They just seemed to be very long. The team came across on the radio and said '15 laps' and I said 'okay', but then 15 laps just seemed a lifetime, especially when you're out in the lead, trying to maintain it, not to push too hard, not to damage the car."

Asked whether breaking his duck in Montreal had given him any extra impetus to produce the performance he did in Indianapolis, Hamilton admitted that his confidence had received another boost, but that that had been countered by his lack of familiarity with the circuit.

"Coming here, obviously I knew that I could do well but, with the other drivers, experience is always the key," he reasoned, "I generally, as a rookie, lack the experience of some others, so I have to make sure I maximise other areas to compensate for that. Obviously, Fernando was extremely quick this weekend and drove a fantastic race as always, but I managed to out-qualify him and stay ahead of him in the race....."

Although much has been made of their rivalry, particularly since the Monaco Grand Prix - and Hamilton has been accused of using platitudes as mind games to destabilise Alonso - but the Briton insists that he has no problem with the Spaniard - on or off track.

"We're very, very close on the track and I think we are getting closer and closer off track too," he claimed, "I think our respect for each other is growing and it's great. Fernando is extremely fair, especially at the start of the race - he fought very well, very professional. I'm just proud and honoured to be sitting next to him as I've looked up to him for the last few years."



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