By Alan Baldwin
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) – Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton said he would have been far tougher with Ferrari’s Italian Grand Prix winner Charles Leclerc on Sunday had the Mercedes driver not been fighting for his sixth world championship.
“I wouldn’t have moved. We would have collided,” the Briton said of an incident where he was squeezed off track and forced to cut a corner by the 21-year-old Monegasque in an aggressive defensive move.
Hamilton ended the day 63 points clear of his closest rival and Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, who finished second, with seven of 21 races remaining.
Leclerc won Ferrari’s home race from pole position, with Hamilton putting him under plenty of pressure until his Mercedes’s tires had no life left in them.
Hamilton ended up third, but with a precious extra point for fastest lap.
Leclerc, who has won the last two races, is fourth overall but 102 points behind the Briton and only mathematically in title contention against a rival who has finished all but two races this season on the podium.
“There is absolutely zero issue with us, I think he did an exceptional job today,” Hamilton told reporters after the race when asked about the incident.
“If we get a moment together we might chat for a second and just reverse roles and make sure he’s cool with it if I’m in that position and that happens.
“If that’s cool, then that’s how we are racing.”
Hamilton said he respected Leclerc but he was still discovering more about how the youngster, in only his second season and first with Ferrari, behaved on track.
“Charles is one of the most respectful drivers,” he added. “This is today the first time I’ve really come wheel to wheel with him as such and when you arrive at a new driver you learn how they approach different scenarios.
“Maybe I’ll position the car differently next time, maybe I’ll do a better job.”
Bottas, who pitted later and had fresher tires than Hamilton at the end, moved into second place after Hamilton went straight at the chicane.
The Briton said he would have let the Finn go past otherwise.
“I knew that he was much, much quicker and had a shot to potentially win the race,” he said. “I think that’s the most important point for the team.
“So in hindsight I didn’t have to do that (let him overtake),” he smiled.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)