Lewis Hamilton has no intention of easing up this weekend as he seeks a mere top five finish in the Mexican Grand Prix to clinch his fourth drivers world title and a place among the greatest drivers in Formula One history.
The arguments over his status have grown in volume as the months have passed this year, but they reached a new crescendo this week in the days following his ninth win of the season at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Texas.
His Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff declared him to be on course to become “the best driver that has ever existed” while veteran Brazilian Felipe Massa, who missed out on the 2008 title, when Hamilton stole it from with a passing move at the final corner of the decisive Brazilian Grand Prix, said that he already ranks him alongside Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
Another title triumph will lift him clear of Jackie Stewart, on three championship wins, as the most successful British driver of all time, drawing him level on four with Alain Prost and his current rival Sebastian Vettel.
Ahead lie only seven-time champion Schumacher and five-time title winner Juan Manuel Fangio.
Hamilton, however, has been keen to avoid the hype and says his mind is on winning this Sunday’s race in front of a passionate and raucous crowd at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
“There are still three races to go,” said the 32-year-old Briton. “And in my mind, I still have three races to win. There are still a lot of points available – until you actually win the championship, you can’t get ahead of yourself.”
His caution is understandable as he and Mercedes know that despite the long straights and slow corners, the thin air at an altitude of 2,250 metres will help deliver a contest that may play to the strengths of rivals Ferrari.
Mercedes will run with a high down-force set-up, as might be used in Monaco or Budapest, two circuits where they struggled this year, and this is the cause of their concerns.
Vettel, despite trailing Hamilton by 66 points and needing a huge shift in form and fortunes, will not abandon his hopes of stopping the Englishman’s immediate triumph.
But, as Massa put it, if anyone can win more or less anywhere in any conditions, it is Hamilton who has reeled off five wins in six races since the European summer.
“He is definitely one of the best drivers in the history of Formula One,” said the Brazilian.
“You cannot really take him away in a different level compared to Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. He’s there.”
Wolff, a demanding team chief who has seen Hamilton add consistency and discipline to his unmatched talent for raw speed and aggressive racing, was even more fulsome.
“Lewis is about to break all records that have been set in Formula One and it is just a matter of time that people will say he is on track to being the best driver that has ever existed,” he said.
“This is the best Lewis – both on and off the track – that I have worked with since 2013.”
Hamilton has attributed his rise to “another level of driving” to two main factors.
The first was the retirement of long-term team-mate and rival Nico Rosberg after he won the drivers’ title last year and the second his switch to a vegan diet.
“In hindsight, all things happen for a reason,” said Wolff, as his team celebrated four consecutive constructors’ title triumphs last weekend.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has launched an impassioned plea for consistent decision-making and a more careful choice of stewards after Max Verstappen’s controversial demotion to fourth at Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
Horner avoided revealing names, but pointedly made it clear that one of the stewards involved in the widely-criticised decision taken at the Circuit of the Americas was involved in a similar episode at last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, which also involved Verstappen.
The young Dutchman, 20, who on Friday confirmed he had agreed a contract to stay at Red Bull until 2020, was given a five seconds penalty after a thrilling late passing move on Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, saw him drive briefly off the track at the final corner of the last lap.
Horner said the penalty was “unbelievably harsh” and recalled that he had been told last year in Mexico that drivers would be given a right of reply in future if there was another similar incident.
He said that they were not allowed this in Austin and had no right of appeal.
“They said that they’d listen, look at all the facts, listen to the drivers and then make a decision. What’s happened? They’ve made an instant decision and I think it’s a shocking decision,” he said.
“They didn’t even listen to Max’s argument. In other instances, they would have had the drivers in and listened to both sides.
“Maybe they would have come to the same conclusion, but at least give them the right of reply.”
Horner also defended Verstappen for his post-race rant about the stewards in which he blamed one “idiot steward” and claimed such mistakes would kill the sport.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) October 22, 2017
“He has the right to express himself and in any sport emotions run high – that’s what sport is about,” said Horner. “If he’d said he was happy with that decision I’d be amazed.”
Horner added: “Consistency of stewarding depends on the stewards you get on the day…. F1 is still immature in this country. It’s a big race and with the lack of consistency in the decisions I should think all the viewers and the fans watching didn’t understand.
“Even Kimi Raikkonen didn’t understand why he was on the podium and not Max.
“Where do you gain an advantage and not gain an advantage? The race director was quite clear he had no issues with track limits.”
The stewards at Austin were Radovan Novak of the Czech Republic, Finn Mika Salo and Australian Garry Connelly, who was involved also when Verstappen was demoted from third to fourth in Mexico last year.
Verstappen did not mention names when he said: “It’s a shame we miss out on the podium, as they take it away again, but It’s just one idiot steward who always makes the decisions up there against me.
“I get a five-second penalty and a penalty point – but for what? At the end of the day, everybody is running wide.
“The crowd is loving it and then you do something like that on world TV. The way they did it is unbelievable. The sport makes no sense. They kill the race like that.”
Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes blamed the design of modern circuits for the problems and the row.
“He’s off-track,” said Hamilton. “This is the problem with today’s circuits. I don’t know who made the decision, but there’s all these run-off areas…
“Why is that not grass? If it was grass he wouldn’t have gone there.
“I just don’t know why there’s these flaws on these circuits. The new generation of driver comes in and is very happy to exploit these things.
“Clearly, he’s way off the line. You can’t go there. It is very difficult and when we’re in drivers’ briefings, we’re always discussing it…”
Lewis Hamilton edged closer to a fourth world championship on Sunday when he won the United States Grand Prix ahead of title rival Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari.
Mercedes star Hamilton now has a 66-point lead over Vettel with just three races left.
Hamilton’s win also allowed Mercedes to retain the world constructors championship.
What did you think of the action in Texas?
The in-form Dutchman produced another scintillating drive to finish fourth after starting from P16.
The 20-year-old did finish third but was then demoted of his podium place for an illegal overtaking move on Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap.
With his team mate Daniel Ricciardo retiring on lap 16, Verstappen’s finish added some gloss to a mixed weekend for Red Bull.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2017
Sebastian Vettel may have fallen short of his hopes of victory, however his lap of 1:37.766 on 51 proved to be the fastest of the day.
Valtteri Bottas’s 1:37.767 on lap 54 was the second-fastest, with Kevin Magnussen’s 1:37.893 on 51 third fastest as he attempted to push from the back of the grid.
It’s unfair to say the disappointment was down to Ricciardo’s driving, but more so seeing him retire when a podium place looked likely coming into the race.
Starting from P4, the Australian looked in emphatic form as he battled with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen early on before suffering engine failure after lap 16.
It was another fantastic performance from Stoffel Vandoorne who finished 12th after starting from the back of the grid following a last-minute power unit change.
The Belgian has shown improvement over the course of his first F1 season, scoring points in Singapore and Malaysia to move ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ standings.
The 25-year-old will be hoping for more solid drives in 2018 with the new Renault engine.