Lewis Hamilton’s dominance should lead to F1 endgame in Mexico

Giles Richards
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Lewis Hamilton, right, celebrates his victory in the US Grand Prix with Usain Bolt.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images</span>
Lewis Hamilton, right, celebrates his victory in the US Grand Prix with Usain Bolt. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Ultimately then, after opening with a pre-race ceremony of razzmatazz and showbiz theatrics, the US Grand Prix was not to be the stage on which Lewis Hamilton delivered the dramatic finale of claiming his fourth Formula One world championship. The win he had looked like delivering all weekend was duly secured but Sebastian Vettel taking second place has ensured their title fight will go to the next round in Mexico.

Yet Hamilton has as good as claimed the crown with a drive of verve, composure and dominance that he has delivered so often this season. Not content to settle for second as he could have done after he had lost a place to Vettel off the grid, he attacked again for the lead, took it and held it.

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It was typical of his performances that have ensured only faultless runs from the opposition could have challenged him – performances which Ferrari have, of late, been unable to deliver. But at least in Austin the rival pair went wheel to wheel before Hamilton again stretched away on the path to doing the same with his championship lead.

After a gripping first half of the season, when Vettel and the Scuderia proved they had the measure of Mercedes, their failure to maintain the charge and Hamilton finally finding not only the balance of his car but a new gear, as he proved once again here, has left them powerless to resist.

Hamilton had described the championship as a game of chess earlier in the weekend – one which, despite his points advantage, he insisted might yet have many moves still to be played. But on the form on show in the US the 32-year-old will know the end game is truly in sight. He is perfectly placed finally to topple Ferrari’s king at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez this time next week.

No doubt he would like to have clinched the title in the US with three races remaining, as he did in 2015. His popularity here is a reflection of the remarkable achievements that leave him needing only to finish fifth or better in Mexico to become the most successful British driver, with one more F1 world championship than Sir Jackie Stewart.

He clearly loves the US and his record on track here cannot but have helped. Hamilton took his second grand prix win at Indianapolis in 2007, his rookie year, and since the race next returned to North America in 2012, he has owned the Circuit of the Americas. He won that year and has done so in every race since, except when Vettel took the flag in 2013.

He was at his best to do so once again for a fifth win in Texas and was peerless throughout the weekend. Having led every practice session he was once again untouchable in qualifying, as he has been so often this season in claiming pole, the 11th time this year he has done so.

But the real business was still to come and he was clearly in no mood to relinquish any of the pressure he has brought to bear on Vettel.

His race was flawless and his credentials as world champion-in-waiting proved beyond doubt. Unfazed by losing the lead or Vettel closing on him through the early stop, the control and maturity Hamilton displayed was that of a driver on the top of his game and one that typifies the second half of his season.

In the six races since the summer break Hamilton has achieved an 80-point swing in his favour from Vettel, winning five of them. The pair had been nip and tuck for the first 11 races – indeed Hamilton had not led the championship until the Italian Grand Prix, the 13th round.

He and Vettel have expressed their pleasure in being in such a tight battle for the title and genuinely seem to have been enjoying it, with Hamilton in particular revelling in a challenge from another team after the Mercedes dominance of the past three years.

Yet the anticipated to-the-wire showdown between the pair was almost certainly given the last rites in Austin. While the British driver had struggled with the balance and set-up of his car early in the season he has shown patience and determination to emerge stronger, having maximised every opportunity. Vettel,in contrast, saw his challenge all but disappear in the space of three races.

The German was overeager to recover from a poor start in Singapore and went out in a first-corner crash. In Malaysia an engine change meant fourth was the best he could manage and a spark plug failure in Japan ended his race at Suzuka within four laps. Hamilton made the most of it to carry a 59-point advantage into this race.

Vettel had remained upbeat going into the weekend, despite knowing how heavily the odds were stacked against him. “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” he said.

He duly did everything he could to ensure the finale to this season was not played out in Texas but Hamilton has ensured he will be the one to bring down the curtain in Mexico.

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