By Alan Baldwin
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – It will be high fives for Lewis Hamilton in Austin on Sunday if a fifth win in a row brings the Briton a fifth Formula One world title.
The Mercedes driver is on the brink of joining the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio as a quintuple champion, with only seven times titleholder Michael Schumacher ahead of them in the all-time lists.
Hamilton is 67 points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with three races — and a maximum 75 points — remaining after Texas.
That means the title will be Hamilton’s if he scores eight points more than the German, something the Briton has done for the past four races and a total of eight times in the 17 grands prix so far.
On paper, with Hamilton and Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas one-two in the last two races and the champion triumphant in five of the past six races at the Circuit of the Americas — including the last four — the title is there for the taking.
Hamilton has won five races in a row before, in 2014 when the sequence involved the same five as this time, and is in the form of his life with nine wins so far this season.
He has been busy with media activities in New York this week but his focus on the main task ahead remains laser sharp.
“With six race victories in the last seven races, Lewis has shown what a class act he is,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said this week.
“Both on and off the track he is more complete than ever before, showing commanding performance in the car and challenging the entire team to perform to higher levels at the same time.
“The battle is far from over, so we approach Austin the same way as every other race: take it one step at a time, focus on our job and make sure we bring performance and reliability to the track,” added the Austrian.
The only other driver to have won in Austin to date is Vettel — with Red Bull in 2013 — and he arrives with plenty of criticism of his performance in Japan after he started eighth, dropped to 19th and finished sixth.
Like Hamilton a four times champion, Vettel has failed to finish in the top two for four races and has slumped from title frontrunner to also-ran.
“We know its difficult from where we are but what do we have to lose?,” the German said after the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
“We are trying our utmost to fight and resist and let’s see what the next races bring.”
Mercedes also lead the constructors’ championship by 78 points but cannot yet wrap up their fifth successive team title, with that battle going on at least until Mexico the following weekend.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)