By Alan Baldwin
LE CASTELLET, France (Reuters) - Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has defended title rival Sebastian Vettel against charges of being prone to costly mistakes.
The Ferrari driver collided with the Briton's Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas at the start of Sunday's French Grand Prix, an error that handed the championship lead to eventual race winner Hamilton.
Vettel's 2017 title bid collapsed due to mistakes and misfortune, and Hamilton was asked whether he was surprised his fellow four times world champion was still making them at such a level.
"I’m not really going to get into that," said the Briton, now 14 points clear at the top and with the races coming in quick succession.
"I know what you’re saying but it is really a racing incident in turn one, and those things can happen. We’re all going into that first corner at great speeds.
"I don’t feel that he’s particularly made more mistakes," added Hamilton, who won from pole position without putting a wheel wrong.
The Briton has now gone a record 33 successive races in the points.
"We’re all on the edge, we’re fighting for the world championships, we’re not pootling around, we’re out there putting our lives on the line," said Hamilton.
"We’re out there putting the cars as far beyond the edge as we can in the safest manner. It’s not like a train track, you don’t just stay on the rails. Sometimes you can go off. We’re only human."
Hamilton, who still felt Vettel should have been given more than a five-second penalty, and his rival have been full of mutual respect since their rivalry took off in earnest last season.
They have also had their spats, notably in Azerbaijan last year when they collided in a 'road rage' incident and Vettel accused the Mercedes driver of 'brake testing' him -- allegations he quickly withdrew and apologised for.
Vettel also jumped to Hamilton's defence in Bahrain last April when the Briton was caught insulting Dutch youngster Max Verstappen in the drivers' room before the podium celebrations.
"I don't know what Lewis did, but we've all been in that situation. We fight someone and sometimes we go wheel-to-wheel and it's close -- and we have a lot of adrenaline going," the German said at the time.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)