Johannesburg - A tale of misfortune contrasting with perfection means Lewis Hamilton could seal a fourth World Championship title at the US Grand Prix – coming at Sebastian Vettel’s expense – at 21:00 local time on Sunday.
It may not be a likely scenario, given that Hamilton needs to win the grand prix (GP) 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, with the Ferrari driver finishing 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 10 GPs later, and there 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, as a 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 past five races and second in the one he didn’t win, the Mercedes driver has taken things to another level. His 59-point advantage means he could wrap up the Drivers’ Championship in Austin, Texas.
It is a GP that has belonged to the Brit since the Circuit of the Americas (Cota) first hosted the US 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 5.51km, 20-turn circuit.
Piece of history
The design of Cota incorporates Silverstone’s legendary Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel sequence; the famous Senna Esses of Interlagos; Hockenheim arena’s bends and there’s even a replica of Istanbul’s turn 8. It is a track designed for visuals and 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 eight points – from the team and probably from Formula 1.
Going up against the much-lauded Nico Hülkenberg may not be a fair fight to start with – given Hülkenberg’s experience with the team and the Renault RS17, but it sets the stage for what could be one of the best line-ups and intrateam battles of 2018.
Sainz’s Toro Rosso seat has gone to New Zealander Brendon Hartley, who at 27 is making his Formula 1 debut. He’ll be joined in 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. – TEAMtalk Media