MANAMA (Bahrain) • Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton says he has no concerns about his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg's five-race winning streak or his own poor start this season.
The British driver even referenced Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope tactics in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle heavyweight title fight against George Foreman, with Hamilton suggesting Rosberg's early-season wins might not count for anything in the end.
"You can't win them all," he said after finishing third in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix despite starting on pole position for the second race in a row.
"Not that this is the same, but Muhammad Ali with that Rumble in the Jungle, he got the dude to believe that he was winning and he didn't. So anything can happen."
Hamilton, who has not won a race since clinching his third world title in Texas last October, said he felt psychologically stronger than ever despite the setbacks.
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
1 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1hr 33min 34.696sec
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +10.282sec
3 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +30.148
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +1:02.494
5 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas +1:18.299
1 Rosberg 50pts
2 Hamilton 33
3 Ricciardo 24
4 Raikkonen 18
5 Grosjean 18
1 Mercedes 83pts
2 Ferrari 33
3 Red Bull 30
4 Williams 20
5 Haas 18
"This is a psychological game, for sure," he said. "It is a battle. I guess with age and experience, I'm in the most solid place I've ever been psychologically. There's very little if anything that can penetrate that… there's a long way to go."
He is now 17 points behind Rosberg, but 19 races remain in a championship with more rounds than ever.
He had looked a good bet for a third successive win in Bahrain after seizing pole with the fastest-ever lap around the Sakhir circuit but once again lost out at a start he said was "painful".
Rosberg led through the first corner and romped away untroubled, while Hamilton was hit broadside by the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and had to fight back from seventh.
Bottas had to pay for his mistake with a drive-through penalty, but the incident dragged back Hamilton's pace (a second a lap, according to Mercedes motor sports team boss Toto Wolff) and he was never going to challenge for the front.
There was not even the consolation of second place as Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, completing an astonishing run of eight podium finishes on this track, pushed Hamilton back to the lowest step on the podium.
Hamilton had also started on pole in Australia two weeks earlier, when both Mercedes drivers were jumped by the Ferraris before eventually finishing one-two.
"I honestly am just really grateful that I was able to continue to get third place, considering it could have been a million times worse than that," he said.
The Briton was confident the start problems would be resolved for the next race and played down any psychological advantage Rosberg might be building.
"I couldn't care less if he's won the last five," Hamilton said.
"It's the last two. If you win consecutively in the season, that's something. But five over two seasons, for me that doesn't psychologically mean anything.There's no real flaws in our procedure and how we are working. It will start getting better."
Rosberg's 16th victory put him level with Stirling Moss as F1's greatest winner never to have won a world title. The German has never had a sequence like this against Hamilton and he won without the maverick intervention of Sebastian Vettel, who did not even get to the starting grid.
White smoke poured from the four-time world champion's Ferrari on the formation lap and he had to watch events unfold from the pit wall, leaving Raikkonen to do a splendid job in his absence.
When Rosberg was told that every other driver showing this form had won a championship, the German looked slightly perplexed, even embarrassed.
"It's going great and I am making the most of it," he said. "I knew I had to get my head down and go for the win, playing it as safe as possible. But it is two races from 21, so I am staying very calm and not thinking about the big picture."
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON