First bite at a fourth title for Hamilton


A tale of misfortune contrasting with perfection means Lewis Hamilton could seal a fourth World Championship title at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, coming at Sebastian Vettel’s expense.

It may not be a likely scenario given that Hamilton needs to win the grand prix and have Vettel finish sixth or lower, but it is also not unimaginable given Ferrari’s recent troubles.

The start of this year’s championship belonged to Vettel, the Ferrari driver first or second in the opening six races. Such was his form that he built up a 25-point lead over Hamilton in Monaco.

Five months and ten grands prix later and it is a very different picture. With just one win since Monte Carlo, Vettel trails the Mercedes driver by 59 points with Hamilton on track to wrap up a fourth World title.

But while many are pointing at Vettel and Ferrari’s spectacular collapse – the result of crashes and engine failures – the other side of the picture shows a near-perfect run from Hamilton following the summer break.

Triumphant in four of the last five races, and second in the only one he didn’t win, the Mercedes driver has taken it to another level. His 59-point advantage means he could wrap up the Drivers’ Championship this Sunday in Austin.

It is a grand prix that has belonged to the Brit since the Circuit of the Americas first hosted the United States GP back in 2012. With four wins in five seasons, and the place where he secured title number three in 2015, Hamilton heads to Austin bearing the favourite tag at a track that he loves.

And there’s a lot to love about Austin. Track architect Hermann Tilke fused Formula 1’s best corners together to create the challenging 3.41-mile, 20-turn circuit.

The design of Circuit of the Americas incorporates Silverstone’s legendary Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel sequence, the famous Senna Esses of Interlagos, Hockenheim’s arena bends, and there’s even a replica of Istanbul’s Turn Eight. It is a track designed for the visual and for the racing.

It must be noted, though, that the only other driver aside from Hamilton to take the chequered flag at COTA was Vettel, who in 2013 turned his pole position into a race win.

But while Hamilton is chasing a piece of history, and Vettel is determined to stay in the game, it is a weekend of firsts for other drivers further down the order.

Carlos Sainz is making his Renault debut after joining his 2018 team four races early following Jolyon Palmer’s departure – after 35 starts and nine points – from the team, and likely Formula 1.

Going up against the much-lauded Nico Hulkenberg, it may not be a fair fight to start with given Hulkenberg’s experience with the team and the RS17, but it sets the stage for what could be one of the best line-ups and intra-team battles for 2018.

Sainz’s Toro Rosso seat has gone to New Zealander Brendon Hartley, who at age 27 is making his Formula 1 debut. He’ll be joined at the team by the returning Daniil Kvyat, however, there are some suggestions that if Hartley produces the goods, the Toro Rosso line-up come Mexico could be Hartley and Pierre Gasly.

Formula 1 is once again proving to be a brutal sport – whether fighting for a championship or a place on the grid.

Michelle Foster