Let’s deal with the cold facts first.
Lewis Hamilton arrives at the Circuit of the Americas with a 66-point lead over the new second-placed man in the Drivers’ World Championship, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and a 73-point gap to his own Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
So if Hamilton wins in Austin and anyone other than Vettel is second, the title is his. He needs only two points more than Rosberg to be 75 clear with three races left; he needs nine more than Vettel to put the German in a similar situation.
Hamilton wore a nice furry hat on the Sochi podium, and headgear is now uppermost, so to speak, in his mind.
“I’ve learned from experience that nothing is ever done until it’s done in this sport,” he says, possibly with echoes of his last-gasp title win from 2008 in his thoughts. “So I won’t be taking anything for granted going into this weekend. I’m excited to get out there, give my best and if I can come away with a third Stetson hat that would be unbelievable.”
The reference is to the Texan headgear the Austin winner wears, which Hamilton did as a McLaren driver first time out in Texas in 2012 and again as a Mercedes man last year.
Only he and Vettel, the 2013 winner for Red Bull, have stood on the top step of the Austin podium, so the odds would appear to be in Hamilton’s favour.
“The title is a long shot for me now,” admits Rosberg after his second no-score in four races. “But it’s not in me to give up or back down. Bring it on!”
Vettel has also been on the Austin pole twice and set the fastest lap in all three races there so far, so clearly the Texas air agrees with him. Will it continue to do so now that he is in a scarlet car? Fernando Alonso’s third place in the inaugural race is Ferrari’s only piece of Texan silverware to date.
With this race and the first Mexican Grand Prix of the 21st century on consecutive weekends, much of the attention will be on the man who filled the final podium place in Sochi – Mexican Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez.
That was the Force India driver’s first top-three finish since Bahrain 2014, but it has filled him with new confidence for the double-header where the Mexican presence will be strong.
“Austin has been my home race for several years, before the return of the Mexican Grand Prix, and the circuit is great fun for both fans and drivers,” he says. “When I step into the cockpit and see all the Mexican flags and the fans in the stands it’s an incredible boost for me.”
Pirelli will take their P Zero White (medium) and Yellow (soft) tyres to the Texas track which, as many of the drivers have said, has a bit of everything in its; striking 5.513-kmm lay-out. Sector 1 has that thrilling uphill chase to the blind left-hander at the start of the lap, which Williams driver Felipe Massa describes very well.
“The first sector is incredible leading into a long straight with the opportunity for overtaking. The first corner is special - the elevation change is incredible and the space available means it’s a great place to pass and it’s hard to defend.”
Next come the sweeping corners so reminiscent of Silverstone; Sector 2 is all about the long straights out the back; and Sector 3 gets pretty technical on the downhill run back to the main straight.
As our own Daniel Ricciardo says, “They’ve created a track that’s safe but managed to ensure it’s still fun. It’s probably the best overtaking circuit on the calendar.”
While all of the drivers look forward to strutting their stuff in Texas, the feeling persists that come Sunday afternoon there will be just one name up in lights, as befits the Lone Star State…