Lewis Hamilton is perfectly poised to monopolise the United States Grand Prix and claim his fourth world crown to add even more gloss to his stature as one of the greatest ever Formula One drivers.
The 32-year-old’s Mercedes is in stark contrast compared with his main title rival Sebastian Vettel’s recent run in a flop of a Ferrari, allied to the German’s driving setbacks.
It is difficult to imagine the depth of embarrassment and havoc at the HQ of the Italian team when Vettel’s last outing in Japan shamefacedly collapsed as the victim of a faulty, minor-cost spark plug in their £7 million (Dh33.8 million) challenger after only a handful of laps.
Meanwhile the meritorious Hamilton, with only four races to go, has a 59-point lead over Vettel with only a maximum of 100 remaining. And he has form for runaway wins around the Austin Circuit of the Americas with four fabulous victories, three of them in the sequence 2014-15-16.
Little wonder he enthuses about the 3.4-mile track and his chances of an all-action replay of his triumphant style in America. “I really love this place,” he said.
“It’s a great circuit and a good strong challenge. But I am feeling really up for the job and am very happy with the way I am driving. With expert backing like I have and the car the team gives me, every grand prix I just want to show my gratitude in the best possible manner — and that’s by winning for all the boys back in the garage.”
Since the summer break, he has coolly and effectively destroyed Vettel’s early season lead with four victories from five races, dropping only seven points from a maximum of 125 points with a second place in Malaysia. Compare that with Vettel’s shocker of a downturn: a second, a third, and a fourth with two critical and costly non-finishes. Total collapse.
Hamilton, currently on 61 wins with 71 pole positions, tops the list as the most successful British GP driver in the history of the most demanding of sports.
His esteemed heading of the list looks like this: Nigel Mansell is second placed with 31 victories, then it is Sir Jackie Stewart with 27, fellow Scot Jim Clark on 25 and Damon Hill, a victor 22 times.
And what about the pole position list? Again Hamilton leads the charge with 71 followed by Clark on 33, Mansell, 32, Hill 20 and Stewart with 17. And the numbers game doesn’t stop there. Next is the number of fastest laps with Hamilton clocking 38 against Mansell’s 30, with Clark on 25, and Sir Stirling Moss, never the champion, credited with 19, the same number as Hill.
With Vettel, until a month ago the runaway leader, competing in a Ferrari that has mysteriously developed faults that have the 30-year-old well adrift of Hamilton, the new reigning champion should be crowned on Sunday. But, as we know, anything can happen in F1.
For sure, Ferrari, have remained steadfastly reserved and without comment on their recent run of despair. The same goes for Vettel who whatever disappointed upset he rightfully feels in private, has swayed away from any criticism of his team’s latterly abject performances. And he has been at pains to be seen on television warmly shaking the hands of his back-up team at the scenes of his run of setbacks … his blame or not. He is now on the back foot and facing a desperate rescue bid if he is not to be ignominiously wiped out of the title pursuit in the USA. He refuses to reproach the downhearted team and said defiantly: “Of course, I am disappointed, but now it is important to get the wrongs righted and for me to give it my all in the final four races. And I will fight right to the end of the last lap of the last race in Abu Dhabi.
“If things go wrong it is normal to be critical — but I need to protect my team because they have done an incredible job so far. It is just a pity that in the last two races we have suffered reliability problems.”
The Silver Arrows team leader Toto Wolff is unashamedly proud of Hamilton’s overtaking and usurping of Vettel in the second half of a season that looked lost to him as the Ferrari No. 1 raced to the top of the reckonings.
And he said: “We can take nothing for granted even with the lead we have and the perfect way the whole team is performing. That is why we approach this race with a healthy dose of scepticism rather than wishful thinking.
“We have seen a remarkable turnaround from Seb’s early season lead with the strongest of swings in our favour as Lewis has hit fine form. Sure, good fortune has played its part, but we have put ourselves in the right position to make the most of the opportunities that have come our way.
“Under immense pressure, our team is operating at an incredible high level in every area, from the garage staff to the driver, and we are continuing to do so. We have applied an obsessive attention to detail and we are continuing to develop the car at a competitive rate. Our mindset is one of continued improvement to give Lewis the car he needs to match his fantastic ability. And as we can see from the championship right now it is paying off.
“In parallel to the splendid efforts of the engineers and the crew, Lewis has driven brilliantly and faultlessly all [through] and has been on another level of achievement through his ability and genius since the summer break.”
As their £30-million-a-year superstar sets about underpinning his world title chances, Mercedes have invited more than 1,000 guests to join the celebrations with 250 VIPs in the exclusive Silver Arrows lounge and over the three days with 40 a day privileged to watch on from the paddock and garage unit. They will, I forecast, be cheering on a remarkably gifted driver speeding even higher up the pages of the record books with a fourth world title and excitingly with even more to come as his career glows brighter by each passing grand prix hour.