Lewis Hamilton has hit out in defence of Formula 1 world title rival Sebastian Vettel by calling for the media to “show a little more respect” to the Ferrari driver.

The Mercedes driver moved to the edge of a historic fifth F1 world title with victory at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, while his championship rival Vettel endured a frustrating Suzuka race weekend.

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Following a tyre strategy blunder from Ferrari during qualifying in intermittent rain which left Vettel down in ninth, promoted to eighth after Esteban Ocon’s grid penalty, the German driver carved up the field but on Lap 8 collided with Max Verstappen which sent him into a spin and down to 19th.

Left with a tricky task, Vettel battled back up to sixth place by the chequered flag but saw the championship deficit expand to 67 points with four rounds to go.

Both Ferrari and Vettel came under fire from the media following their performances at Suzuka, with Vettel given particularly heavy scrutiny for his attempted overtake on Verstappen at Spoon curve which wrecked his race, leading to Hamilton's response to criticisms via his Instagram.

“I feel the media need to show a little more respect for Sebastian,” Hamilton said in an Instagram story post. “You simply cannot imagine how hard it is to do what we do at our level, for any athlete at the top of their game that it.

“It is to be expected that being humans we will make mistakes but it is how we get through them that counts.”

Vettel has also come under fire this year for a series of high-profile track incidents including hitting Valtteri Bottas at the start of the French Grand Prix, dropping him to fifth as Hamilton won, plus his most costly error when he crashed out leading his home race before his title rival charged to victory at Hockenheim.

Hamilton can seal the 2018 F1 world title at the next race in the United States if he wins and Vettel finishes lower than second place at the Circuit of the Americas.

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