AUSTIN – Lewis Hamilton stands on the verge of history this week as he needs to out-score Sebastian Vettel by eight points at the United States Grand Prix to become only the third five-time Formula One world champion.
If he does, the 33-year-old Briton will join Juan Manuel Fangio, champion in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957 and Michael Schumacher, the title-winner in 1994 and 1995 who delivered five more for Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, in an exclusive hall of sporting fame.
Having won five of the previous six American races held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas, in Texas, Hamilton is a hot favourite to win again and wrap up the title fight, but he is distancing himself from that narrative.
Instead, despite luxuriating in a 67-point lead after a streak of six wins in seven outings, including the last four in succession, the Mercedes racer has done his utmost to warn against any sign of complacency.
"That part is easy for me because I'm very, very strict on not being complacent with our position and still there are 100 points available," he said. "I know we still have to continue doing the job we're doing now right until the last flag. That's the goal - knowing from past experience that so much can happen.
"I'll focus on amendments I'd like them to focus on making for next year's car, but also how we can also continue to extract from this car because there's still areas we can improve."
Having tasted title defeats in the past, notably in his maiden F1 season in 2007 and when former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg beat him in 2016, Hamilton can draw on bitter experience to drive himself toward his objectives.
"It's one thing dreaming it and one thing executing it," he said. "We knew we would have a tough battle this year - you saw the ups and downs at the beginning of the season.
"It was such an unknown. I always do plan on coming back stronger in the second half of the season and the preparations I went through in my break were spot-on - and allowed me to perform better."
Hamilton can afford to be conservative in his racing and still take the title if Vettel and Ferrari are unable to beat him or win the race.
But if he wins, the German must finish second to keep his hopes alive, albeit only mathematically. Third behind a victorious Hamilton would not be enough.
Aware that it was Kimi Raikkonen, in a Ferrari, who took the 2007 title when Hamilton lost momentum in the final races, and that the only other winner in Austin has been Vettel, with Red Bull in 2013, Hamilton himself knows he cannot relax.
"There's still 100 points available and anything can happen," he said, ignoring the siren call of his easy enjoyment of America, where he feels so much at home as he showed while fulfilling media duties in New York.
That focus and tenacity are among the qualities that his Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff highlighted when he described him a "class act" and a driver who is "more complete than ever before".
Wolff also pointed out that Hamilton's level of performance was challenging the entire team to perform at higher levels.
He added that this title scrap is "far from over" and that past results in Austin will "have no impact" this weekend.
"Everyone knows that we cannot take anything for granted, so we will be as diligent as ever, keep our heads down and work hard to get a good result in Texas," said Wolff, adding that Ferrari will push until the final corner.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)