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Hamilton sees rivalry with Vettel hotting up

By Alan Baldwin

SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton expects his Formula One rivalry with Sebastian Vettel to become even more intense this season and says he is prepared for anything the Ferrari driver throws at him.

The battle between the two four-times world champions promises to be the storyline of the season starting in Australia on March 25.

Hamilton came out on top last year, a season that started out in mutual respect before tipping into 'road rage' and recrimination when they collided and banged wheels in Azerbaijan.

"You would have to expect that it could be worse," Hamilton told reporters when asked, at the launch of his Mercedes team's new F1 W09 car at Silverstone on Thursday, about the tension between the two.

"Always expect the worst and hopefully it will be better."

The Briton said the campaign was likely to be closer than ever but he would also be even better.

"Hopefully if I am performing at my best, then there will be issues -- because they (Ferrari) will be upset about it," he added.

Asked about potential 'mind games', Hamilton smiled.

"Honestly, I don't play mind games," he said. "I just drive faster."

The Briton spoke of his hunger, even if he still has some weight to lose before the first race, and commitment as well as the joys of his longest break in a decade.

Since November, the 33-year-old has been surfing in California and snowboarding in Japan as well as hanging out with friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic.

He enthused about the time spent chasing waves with 11-times world surf league champion Kelly Slater, an experience that was also painful.

"I go for the biggest waves and I get barrelled over," he grinned.

Hamilton has also kept a lower profile on social media, wiping his Twitter and Instagram accounts in late December after attracting criticism for comments about his young nephew wearing a pink dress.

He said the "clean slate" was planned and he would aim to strike a balance in future.

"I have been very open with my life for several years and it is always difficult to make a change because I have always been open," he added.

"But we are in a strange time in the world where things are magnified a lot more than they were in previous years. It is a critical time for the world.

"Social media is still the gateway to connect to fans, so it will be a part of my life. As to how deep I will go, we will see."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)