MANAMA (Reuters) - World champion Lewis Hamilton has said he was just trying to show the fun side of Formula One when he sprayed champagne in the face of a Chinese Grand Prix podium hostess last weekend.
Sunday's incident, captured in photographs that showed the woman flinching as the Mercedes driver aimed a stream of fizz at her, triggered condemnation from critics in Britain and Germany as well as on Chinese social media.
The woman herself played down what happened in an interview with the Shanghai Daily newspaper and Hamilton said he was relieved to hear that.
"Ultimately it was a great weekend, and generally my actions are through excitement," the Briton told reporters after arriving at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Thursday.
"This is Formula One, it's he pinnacle of motor sport and I'd just won a grand prix for the team. You should see it was a kind of a fun thing.
"I would never, ever intend to disrespect or try to embarrass someone like that."
Hamilton said it had not overshadowed his week because he had only just been briefed on the controversy, and he questioned why it had been brought up.
"This is a sport that so many people love, and the more we show character and fun it reflects just how great this sport is, and that's what I try to do," said the 30-year-old championship leader.
"It hasn't affected me, and it's nice to know that the lady kind of wrote in. If she had written in and said she was really unhappy then perhaps I would be more concerned."
The Shanghai Daily quoted 22-year-old Liu Siying, a graduate of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, as saying the incident "lasted for only one or two seconds, and I didn't think too much about it.
"I think some foreign media are more sensitive about the topic than local media," she added. "I was just told by my employer to stand on the podium, and that's what I did."
Hamilton was speaking after Britain's Times newspaper condemned his behavior in a leader column.
"Hamilton is a great driver but nothing gives him the right to behave like a hooligan. Not even winning," it declared.
The practice of jubilant drivers spraying champagne on the podium has become a ritual dating back decades, even if some critics see it as uncouth while others shudder at the waste of good bubbly.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar