AUSTIN (Texas) • Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton shrugged off having his Formula One title celebrations put on hold on Sunday and said it does not matter when or where he wins his fifth championship as long as it comes in the end.
The Briton would have wrapped up matters at the United States Grand Prix had he beaten Sebastian Vettel by eight points but fell short. He finished third with the Ferrari driver fourth, leaving the gap between them at 70 points.
He will now have to wait until Mexico this weekend for another shot at becoming only the third driver to win five titles or more.
Mercedes did not help his cause with a strategy that left him having to pit twice, against rivals stopping only once, but Hamilton also admitted he had played it safe with so much at stake.
The finishing positions still made the ultimate goal a foregone conclusion with the Mercedes driver needing only to finish seventh in Mexico even if Vettel - who cannot afford to drop another point - wins.
"Honestly, I was trying to win, but you look at the two guys next to me - they're not fighting for a championship so I had to be very careful how I navigated around them," said Hamilton during the podium news conference with Ferrari's race winner Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
"Championships are not won by fighting and making silly mistakes."
The Briton had started on pole position and arrived in Austin on the back of four wins in a row and six out of the last seven.
He added that he would have driven far more aggressively had the battle at the end been with Vettel rather than Verstappen.
"The key was that I at least finished ahead of Seb and, for me, it doesn't matter when you win the championship as long as you get it done," Hamilton said.
He did, however, question his team's tactics.
Ferrari have made crucial errors in recent races while Mercedes have looked solid but, on Sunday, Hamilton was called into the pits for a tyre change on the 11th lap during a virtual safety car period, but the new tyres did not last and began to blister later, needing a second stop.
Raikkonen, on the other hand, stopped only once on his way to winning the race. Though Hamilton was gaining ground at the end, the deficit was too much to make up.
"It was a difficult day. As a team, we didn't perform that great, but congratulations to Kimi. I know it's been a while, but he drove fantastically well today," the Briton said.
Raikkonen lived up to expectations in his customary laconic style after claiming his first win for more than five years. The 39-year-old, who triumphed for the first time in 113 races dating back to the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, could not resist an ultra-dry riposte at the expense of Hamilton.
Sitting in the green pre-podium room after the race, he leaned across to speak to the Briton.
"So, did you win the championship today?" asked the Finn.
The delivery was so deadpan that Hamilton was caught off-guard and muttered only a brief response.
Typically, Raikkonen played down his success in Austin.
"It's not going to change my life," he said. "The champagne tastes the same. It's no different to the last time on the podium.
"We always come to the weekend to do our best and, if we do our best, then we expect to be up there to fight for the win."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN