Lewis Hamilton is taking nothing for granted as all around him predict he will be celebrating his third drivers’ world title success on his favoured American soil later this month.
The 30-year-old Briton, who is a frequent trans-Atlantic visitor, may clinch his second successive championship if he claims his 10th win of the year at the United States Grand Prix, one of his favourite events, on October 25.
Hamilton won the race at Austin, Texas in 2012 and again last year and will be seeking his 43rd career victory, knowing he needs to outscore nearest rival and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel by nine points and third-placed Nico Rosberg by two.
But, after taking full advantage of his Mercedes team-mate Rosberg’s mechanical misery by winning Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix ahead of Vettel, the music-loving Hamilton said he was taking it easy, adding that “there is still a long way to go”.
“Of course, my goal is to win a third title,” he explained. “And until I achieve that, there is no other goal. I feel I am incredibly fortunate to have this car and this opportunity, but I have never said, or felt, that the title race has been done and dusted.
“There are still a lot of points to win, lots available. I am aware of that. I love going to Austin and the track has been amazing for me since the first race so I am looking forward to it.
“It is a track that you can race on and really get close to people on so I am hoping for some great racing.”
Hamilton won last year’s race from second on the grid behind the luckless Rosberg, just as he did at the Sochi Autodrom on Sunday when he overhauled his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna’s total of 41 Grand Prix wins to draw level with Vettel on 42.
He also drew some puzzled looks from many paddock observers when he hugged Russian president Vladimir Putin in the post-race ceremonials before stepping onto the podium, an act that may not be warmly appreciated by all Americans.
– Resurgent Ferrari -Another win and he will pass Vettel in the record books at a time when Ferrari, inspired by Vettel, are re-emerging as a force and a potential challenger to the Mercedes team that, on Sunday, retained the constructors’ title thanks to a post-race penalty handed to Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff, however, believes that Vettel will not settle for second place behind Hamilton for much longer and on Sunday forecast “one of the great rivalries in our sport” will be unveiled next year if Ferrari can compete against Mercedes.
“Lewis has his own rivalry in our team which is good for him and us, but a rivalry with Sebastian would add a new dimension,” he said.
“They are both driving in very high performance cars and it can be one of the great rivalries in the sport, in different teams. It will be great for the sport.
“We expect Ferrari to be very strong next year. They have shown high performance this season earlier than we expected and towards the end of Sunday’s race you could see that Sebastian had good pace in his car.
“We look forward to a great fight next year.”
As Wolff anticipated another era, Mercedes boss Niki Lauda predicted that despite his disappointment on Sunday, Rosberg would mount a fightback in Texas.
“He is very disappointed now, but he is a racing driver and he knows these things can happen,” he said, referring to the German’s misfortune when his car developed a throttle pedal problem that could not be resolved.
“He led the race and could have won but these things happen. A racing driver never gives up, and especially Nico…”