By Alan Baldwin
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton has indicated that, in his heart at least, he will be the true Formula One world champion even if Sunday's title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix goes against him.
If he was to beat the odds and deny Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg a first championship, it would represent the biggest achievement of the uncompromising Briton's stellar career.
"I think in my heart I will feel - and maybe I should keep that private to myself - but I feel a certain way in my heart how I have performed," Hamilton told reporters ahead of the season's finale at Yas Marina.
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"If he is labelled 'the world champion' it doesn't necessarily mean that's the way it's labelled in my heart," said the 31-year-old, who was quickest in both Friday practice sessions, making gestures for inverted commas.
Like Rosberg, Hamilton has won nine races this campaign but unlike the German he has suffered more reliability problems.
The Briton said his feelings did not mean Rosberg could not be considered a worthy winner but world champions were supposed to be "the best in all areas, all year long".
"Just like 2007, in my heart I feel like I actually won that championship," he explained.
"Whilst it doesn't show that on paper, and people only remember who won the championship, in my heart I know and that's good enough for me."
Hamilton missed out on the 2007 title by a point to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, taking it the next year instead.
This season he has fought back from 43 points down, taken the lead and then fallen behind again before finally having a chance of becoming Britain's first four times champion.
Hamilton's fans will always argue that without a late engine failure while leading comfortably in Malaysia, the Briton would be in charge instead of being 12 points adrift with his fate in Rosberg's hands.
Despite winning the last three races, he is well aware that Rosberg need only finish on the podium to be crowned champion.
All the British bookmakers have the German as clear favourite, with Hamilton very much an outside chance.
"If I was to win? Oh, by far it would be the greatest, it would be the greatest achievement of my career for sure," he said.
"It would be a battle... similar to the years and years of battle that I have had, particularly in our younger days as a family, all coupled into one year.
"I never want to write a book. I get offers to do books all the time and I turn them down.... but I get excited about one day talking about this year. There are so many thoughts I have on my mind which I can't share with you just yet," he added.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)