Austin - Things are getting serious as Formula 1 heads into the fourth last round of the 21-race calendar, with Nico Rosberg 33 points clear of Lewis Hamilton.
But if ever there was a race where the reigning champion could fight back, the United States Grand Prix is it.
Then again, we’ve said that before.
Hamilton will arrive on the Circuit of the Americas (Cota) grid as a four-time United States Grand Prix winner, three of those triumphs coming at Cota.
As a wet, wild and at times washed-out weekend was being decided last year, his last victory was caused by a mistake from Rosberg when the German slid off the track due to wheelspin, handing the lead to Hamilton.
In doing so, Hamilton wrapped up his third Drivers’ Championship title.
But the advantage is with Rosberg this year.
It has been a year of firsts for the 31-year-old, who has nine Practice One outings to his tally, of which seven – Bahrain, Russia, Europe (Baku), Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Japan – were first-time victories.
Rosberg, who is still counting victories and not points, will take to the start grid confident that he can once again thwart Hamilton’s fightback.
As Mercedes non-executive chair Niki Lauda said, with 33 points in hand the only thing that can stop Rosberg from racing away with this year’s title is reliability.
And that has been an issue for Mercedes.
Both drivers have struggled with clutch issues, although Hamilton has had more of those of late, while engine troubles have also plagued them again, but mostly on Hamilton’s side of the garage.
Should Mercedes stumble or clash at Austin, Red Bull and Ferrari will be looking to take advantage of the situation.
They may not be able to win the Constructors’ title, or even the Drivers’, given that third-placed Daniel Ricciardo is 101 points off the pace with 100 still in play.
But “best of the rest” is still up for grabs. Ricciardo is 42 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonin in the standings, while Red Bull are 50 ahead of Ferrari.
But it is Sebastian Vettel who joins Hamilton on the winners’ roster at Cota.
The Ferrari driver triumphed in 2013 while racing for Red Bull Racing.
He was also on the podium in 2012 and again last year. One team that will be looking to impress is Haas as the American outfit races in their home grand prix.
Haas have not scored since Romain Grosjean’s P7 in Austria, but they will hope that their new front wing, which helped them to P7 in qualifying in Japan, can elevate them into the top 10 on Sunday.
There is also fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship to play for as Force India and Williams lock horns while places on the 2017 grid – most notably Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India seat – are up for grabs for those who impress as the season draws to its conclusion.
As said, this is when it gets serious. – TEAMtalk Media