With a thirty-three point deficit to Mercedes AMG Petronas team-mate Nico Rosberg, and just four races remaining this season, Lewis Hamilton heads to Austin in dire need of extending his near-faultless record at the 3.4 mile Circuit of the Americas.
Hamilton, who has found his title challenge derailed in recent weeks with an engine failure from a commanding lead in Malaysia and a below-par performance a fortnight ago in Suzuka, has won three of the four races since Formula One returned to Texas in 2012, the most recent of which saw him claim his third world championship twelve months ago.
The only blemish to his record, impressively, is a fourth placed finish in 2013, a year Hamilton spent in transition between McLaren and Mercedes, his FW04 the forerunner to the trio of hybrid machines the Silver Arrows have gone on to dominate the sport in.
However team-mate Rosberg, who would have lost the world championship lead in Kuala Lumpur if not for Hamilton’s mechanical woes, arrives in America with the crucial advantage of being able to finish second to the Brit in every remaining race and still mathematically able to seal a first world title.
There has been some suggestion in reports following Suzuka that Hamilton, who clashed with sections of the world’s media over his use of Snapchat during Thursday’s FIA press conference, has taken a knockout blow in his bid to equal Alain Prost and Sebastien Vettel’s total of four world titles. Those with a little more experience behind the wheel, such as 1996 world champion Damon Hill, have cited those views as rubbish.
Hamilton has demonstrated on an almost tediously regular basis over the last three seasons that, on his day, Rosberg simply cannot touch him. The two are in the same league of competition, no doubt, but of the two, the feeling is that the former holds the upper hand without intervention.
3️⃣3️⃣ point gap
1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ points still up for grabs
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 10, 2016
The simple equation is; Hamilton needs Rosberg to hit misfortune, as Hamilton himself has done. With races running out and no visible chunk in the German’s armour, all he can hope to do is dominate in Austin once again and pray the fates deal both Mercedes’ drivers an equal hand of luck before the season concludes in Abu Dhabi next month.
Can anybody catch Mercedes in America? Unlikely. Though Red Bull and Ferrari, who are incidentally locked in a fascinating battle for ‘best of the rest’ in the Constructors championship, which Mercedes sealed by virtue of their 1-3 finish in Japan, have definitely made strides forward in the past few months, neither outfit looks likely to challenge at what should be one of Mercedes’ strong circuits. The FW06 moves well through the fast, sweeping sections in sector one and certainly has enough straight line speed to maintain it’s advantage.
Equally exciting is the battle between Williams and Force India, arguably the two largest non-factory based outfits to emerge into the sport since the turn of the millennium. Vijay Mallya’s squad are currently ten points to the good in the race for fourth and both are experiencing more than their fair share of headaches in the driver market.
Long-term Force India protegee Nico Hulkenberg was released from his contract earlier this week and will join the works Renault team from next season, though the team were able to retain the services of popular Mexican Sergio Perez. Williams, who have spent the majority of the season fielding questions about a possible return from Jenson Button, are yet to make any significant moves in the market. Felipe Massa’s retirement opens up a seat, presumably next to Valterri Bottas, who deputy team principal Claire Williams is known to be keen to retain next year.
Red Bull’s junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, have suffered in recent races as their outdated Ferrari power unit drops behind its rivals in the development race, however McLaren’s patchy form, whilst encouraging to Honda, does little to reassure doubters it can maintain it’s fifteen point lead for sixth until the final flag falls in Abu Dhabi, though it certainly won’t be from a lack of passion on Button or team-mate Fernando Alonso’s part.
None of these battles can be won this weekend in Texas, but they can certainly be lost. And for Rosberg, he will be hoping his ‘one race at a time’ mantra holds true for just seven more weeks.
Session Times (GMT) – all live on Sky Sports F1/HD
Practice One – 16:00
Practice Two – 20:00
Practice Three – 16:00
Qualifying – 19:00
Race – 20:00