Lewis Hamilton, ensconced in China alongside one of his favourite Formula One facilities, Shanghai, the scene of so many personal successes, has promised to make a comeback from his early season initial setbacks to ensure surprise championship pacemaker Sebastian Vettel fails to add the maximum victory points to his title tally.
It would have been easy for Hamilton to have plunged into the confidence drop zone after being overshadowed and bamboozled by drastic failures of both his Mercedes car and the back-up team — but the four-time champion has put behind him his forlorn feelings in an all-out level of determination to give an action replay of his historic Shanghai brilliance.
He scored the impressive hat-trick of a memorable win from pole with the fastest lap in last year’s encounter that left Ferrari rival Vettel six seconds well adrift in his wake, for his fifth victory in China. That amazing record is underpinned by his astonishing count-up of pole placings, six in all since 2007.
Little wonder, ahead of their Sunday showdown, Vettel, a winner only once in Shanghai as long ago as 2009, admitted that he will have his work cut out to claim a third successive victory in a 2018 season that even this early is already threatening to be a thriller to remember.
The German ace, like Hamilton a four-time world champion, has benefited from a sequence of Mercedes setbacks, none of them the star driver’s fault, and admits: “It will get tougher as each race develops. There is no way Lewis will not fail to give it his all. And I have to be on the lookout for what will be a sure-fire fightback from him and Mercedes.”
He goes to Shanghai off the record of his first back-to-back triumph since 2013, and the first time he has clinched both opening GPs since 2011 when he carried on to be world champion with Hamilton down in fifth place.
Hamilton, with a taste for the ultimate Chinese takeaway, yet another top spot, says: “Shanghai has always been a happy hunting ground for me. And we will be going back there with some considerable strength.
“Ferrari have shown they are incredibly quick — but Shanghai is a great track for me. So it will be down to me to put the car where it belongs. Up front. And in first place.”
The redoubtable ace with pace aplenty has some unnerving news for his Formula One foes: “I am driving better now than I have ever done in my entire career.”
He will, however, be hoping that in the 191 mile 57-lap duel around the 3.36m circuit he can steer clear of wonderboy Max Verstappen, the Red Bull wild man who put himself out of the running when he clouted Hamilton’s car in a gung-ho first-lap Bahrain melee last time out.
Hamilton’s fury triggered him to verbally wallop the 20-year-old Dutch driver in an after-race barrage when he fumed: “He is a thickhead.”
Red Bull team leader Christian Horner defended his reckless driver without it being too convincing an argument. He offered, rather weakly in my opinion: “It was just hard racing.”
And Hamilton, a career winner 62 times from 209 races, still enraged, responded: “It is interesting to hear Christian has said that because they have a car which should be getting good results — but through either inexperience or immature decisions they are not.
“Max should have had a decent race in Bahrain. If it had been me in their car I would have got points for Red Bull.
“I hope he is learning. It is too easy to get ahead of yourself and forget to respect the other guys you are racing.”
Well! So there, Max, you have been warned by the veritable champion you are desperately anxious to copy. Maybe overly anxious.