Ricciardo defends 'complex' rival Hamilton

Philip Duncan
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (L) has defended Formula One rival Lewis Hamilton (R)

Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo has just finished talking about Lewis Hamilton ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.

"You want a word to describe Lewis?" he asks.

"It starts with 'c' and has four letters."

There is a momentary pause before a customary smile breaks out on the Ricciardo's face.

"Cool. Lewis is cool," he adds.

The Australian is, of the current Formula One fraternity, the driver with whom Hamilton is perhaps most at ease. They spent time together at the Coachella Music Festival in California earlier this year.

On Thursday, they shared jokes off camera during an official press conference to preview the spectacular night race.

Yet as Hamilton closes in on a remarkable sixth world championship - and will start as the favourite to win for a ninth time this season on Sunday after setting the pace in practice - the Briton, 34, continues to divide opinion in his homeland.

"I guess he is complex," Ricciardo, the 30-year-old Renault driver, told the PA news agency.

"I have always had positive interactions with him, but I am not silly and I can see how people have other opinions.

"Whether it is his lifestyle, or that sometimes he can be quite reserved and you don't get much out of him.

"He reached a high level at a young age, and there is the fame that comes with that. He was exposed to the celebrity lifestyle and naturally that can have an effect.

"He has admitted, too, that he is trying to find his own feet. He put on his Instagram account that he is trying to find his purpose in life so there are times when, I guess, he is trying to figure himself out. He means well, but sometimes he can be hard to read."

Hamilton holds a 63-point championship lead over Valtteri Bottas in his inevitable march towards another triumph.

There is every chance he could obtain a big enough lead to wrap up the title in just three weeks' time at the Japanese Grand Prix, particularly if Bottas' indifferent form continues. On Friday, the Finn put his Mercedes in the wall while Hamilton led Red Bull's Max Verstappen by 0.184 seconds at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Despite the lightning start to his championship defence, Hamilton has not had it all his own way in recent times. The last six races have been shared between Verstappen, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Hamilton.

Sebastian Vettel, however, has not triumphed in over a year. He heads into Sunday's race a staggering 115 points behind Hamilton and in the spotlight once again following his latest mistake, a spin at Ferrari's home race in Italy a fortnight ago.

"He needs to go back a step, take the load off, take the pressure off, take all the s*** off his shoulders, and see where that takes him," said Ricciardo, who drove alongside the German at Red Bull.

Vettel, 32, is out of contract at the end of next year but there have been suggestions the quadruple world champion may call it quits before then.

"I don't think Seb is done yet," Ricciardo said.

"I am pretty sure he is going to stay next year, but after that? I am not sure."