A REFLECTIVE and emotional Lewis Hamilton says there is more to come from his F1 career than simply seeking to become the sport's all-time most successful driver.
In the year in which he set a new record for most F1 pole positions, Hamilton's fourth world title at the age of 32 has brought into focus Michael Schumacher's hitherto-unthinkable record of seven world championships and 91 race wins.
But in the aftermath of his word championship coronation in Mexico on Monday (AEDT), and speculation he could yet break Schumacher's tally of wins and titles, Hamilton insisted he wouldn't be defined by statistics and records.
"I'm different," said Hamilton. "People talk about Michael's single-mindedness about his job but to stand out in the world today is a lot harder because it's all been done before.
"So doing something different that helps you stand out, that really highlights your individuality, is really important and that's really something I'm working on."
Away from F1, Hamilton has become a habitual globetrotter and a regular presence at celebrity parties and fashion shows. But ominously for his rivals, arguably Hamilton's greatest achievement this season has been his ability to harness his increasing preoccupation with life away from the racing track with his best ever form on it.
"I'll continue to race while I love it," he added. "I've enjoyed it this year more than ever."
And unlike the situation with ex-teammate Nico Rosberg that unfolded 12 months ago, there is no prospect of F1's newly-crowned world champion retiring.
"I could do the easy thing like obviously Nico did which is just stop and retreat with these four titles, but I think there's more in me, I think there's more to come, more of a challenge, as there are harder times ahead. I like that, I love that, that's challenging," confirmed Hamilton.
HAMILTON'S BEST SEASON AND BEST CHAMPIONSHIP?
The consensus within the paddock for several months has been that Hamilton has gone up a level in 2017 to reach new heights of excellence. "I feel that way too," Hamilton admitted in an interview with Martin Brundle in which it was suggested by the Sky F1 pundit that Hamilton was at his peak.
While Hamilton admitted Rosberg's retirement had "enabled me to enjoy my job a lot more", the Englishman attributed his improved form this season to the emergence of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel as a genuine and long-lasting threat to Mercedes after three successive seasons of exclusive Silver Arrows superiority.
"It felt challenging on a personal level, this year is a championship which I've been hoping for, a little bit like 2008, where you're fighting another team, fighting this historic team, which Michael (Schumacher) raced for and won championships in," he said.
"I'm really proud of that and to be able to battle someone else who is a four-time world champion, a proven world champion, who's got great skill and a team also that knows how to win a championship. That's how every championship needs to be, and I hope there's more championships like this one where we have this tough battle."
Hamilton's previous three titles - 2008 with McLaren and 2014 and 2015 with Mercedes - have all come with cars boasting a clear advantage over the rest of the field. But Hamilton believes his latest triumph was earned in a car which wasn't the best on the grid.
"Whilst people have written that we've had the best car, I don't believe we've had the best car," he argued. "I think we've been the best team, we've done the best job but there have been times when we've not had the best car."
HAMILTON READY FOR NEW CHALLENGES IN 2018
But uppermost in Hamilton's thoughts about the future was the battles Mercedes expect to face in 2018.
While the world champions themselves have identified building a car less temperamental than their 2017 "diva" as this winter's priority, Hamilton himself is braced for a fresh battle with Vettel, a new challenge from Max Verstappen and the return of an old foe to the front.
Hamilton and Vettel are now tied at four titles apiece and the 32-year-old admitted he was using the German's proximity to him in the records as a motivational force.
"It's kind of cool to be in this battle with him," said Hamilton. "He got 50 poles (in qualifying) and I don't want to give him any more poles because he gets closer to me. That's inspiration to keep pushing it - the same with wins, same with championships.
"When I see him sign for another three years with Ferrari and I'm like, 'Ferrari are not going to like me for the next couple of years.' We're going to make it as hard as it can possibly be for them to win championships but I really am looking forward to that battle with them."
So too the increasingly anticipated fight with Verstappen, victor in two of the last four races, and considered to be F1's next superstar in waiting.
"He's really the brightest young star that we've seen for some time," admitted Hamilton. "I hope that in his early era that I can be a good force and a good battle for him."
And on former team McLaren and teammate Fernando Alonso, with whom he fought in the closing stages of Monday's race, Hamilton added: "Just wait until this guy gets a good engine, because the car was great through other sections, and I really hope for McLaren, who have a special place in my heart, that next year is a better year for them.
"I hope they have a stronger engine a stronger car, and Fernando's a tough cookie. I enjoyed the little battle I had with him and I hope we get to have many more like that."