As has been established since Lewis Hamilton guided his Mercedes to a ninth win of the season at Suzuka, the Briton can take the drivers’ title at the Circuit of the Americas if he outscores rival Sebastian Vettel by at least eight points.
So a 1-2 finish, as Mercedes has experienced in the last round, will get the job done.
If Hamilton and Mercedes really want to cruise across the line, they only require 33 points over the final four races to to take the title, regardless of what Vettel does.
The odds are in Hamilton’s favour for a successful weekend in Texas; he has the most wins for any driver at the United States Grand Prix (six; one at Indianapolis and five at the COTA) and he’s claimed all-but-one victory at COTA since it joined the calendar in 2012. Added to that, Mercedes are yet to be defeated in Austin in the hybrid era.
If his memories weren’t sweet enough in Austin, it’s also where Hamilton took his third drivers’ title.
Ferrari’s unwillingness to tell Kimi Raikkonen to move over for his Ferrari team-mate in the closing stages of the Japanese Grand Prix suggest that they think chasing the title is now in vain, and will be working towards trying to get back on the top step of the podium, a feat they haven’t managed since the Belgian Grand Prix.
They will be also be hoping their lead driver can recover some confidence before the season is out. Vettel’s the only other man to win in Austin – back in 2013 with Red Bull – and the Ferrari man also shares the pole position record at COTA (2; with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg).
The two championship contenders of 2018 were in a race-long battle for the win at the inaugural race in 2012. With Vettel – then with Red Bull – leading Hamilton – then with McLaren – for the majority of the race, the latter homed in on the race lead and made the backmarker-assisted overtake down the back straight to take the first Formula One win in Austin.
The pair raced against each other in the opening stages of last year’s event, with Vettel beating Hamilton off the line before being powerless to resist the raw pace of the Mercedes W08. The Ferrari man will be hoping he and the team can put up more resistance this time around.
Battle for the ‘Class B’ Title Intensifies
Whilst there’s only really the battle for third place to be decided in the top six drivers (Valtteri Bottas currently leads Kimi Raikkonen by 207 points to 196), the competition for who can finish as ‘best of the rest’ is getting ever tighter.
This has been a fascinating battle over the course of the year, with several candidates in contention for seventh place in the drivers’ championship.
Sergio Perez’s seventh-place finish at the Japanese Grand Prix moved him to the head of the midfield, and he’s now one of three drivers (from three different teams!) on 53 points. The Racing Point Force India driver is at the front of this tiebreaker due to his third-place finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix earlier this year.
Haas’ Kevin Magnussen is also on 53 points and classified in eighth due to having the next-best individual finishes; two fifth places in 2018.
The final driver on the aforementioned points total is Nico Hulkenberg, who has one fifth place finish to his name this season.
This isn’t just a three-driver battle, though.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has swept up points in the under-performing McLaren at every chance that’s come his way, and he has 50 to his name, one ahead of the second Force India of Esteban Ocon.
Slightly further back are Carlos Sainz (39) and Romain Grosjean (31), with the latter still waiting on the outcome of the hearing to try and overturn his Italian Grand Prix disqualification. He finished sixth in that race, which would potentially edge his total back up to 39 points.
In the constructors’ contest, Haas out-scoring Renault by three points at Suzuka have put the American team just eight behind with four races to go, and they’ll fancy their chances of taking further points at the higher-speed COTA circuit. Renault will be looking to pick up their pace; they’ve struggled in qualifying and have only had one double-points finish since the French Grand Prix.
Force India are rapidly closing in on sixth-place McLaren and, if form continues, they should be surpassing their points total within a couple of races. Disappointingly for the Silverstone-based team, if the first twelve races hadn’t been chalked off the championship, they would be occupying fourth place in the constructors’ with 102 points, ten ahead of Renault.
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
Who do you think will take the win in Austin? Who’s your money on for the ‘Class B honours? Leave your comments in the section below.