For a man who is poised on the brink of further greatness, Lewis Hamilton was predictably matter-of-fact here this morning as the high winds outside at his beloved Circuit of the Americas presaged the rain that is due tomorrow and Saturday.
On the track where he has dominated so often, he could join Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as a five-time world champion. In British motorsport, only the late and maliciously unknighted John Surtees, on motorcycles, has won more with seven before adding an eighth in cars.
And, if arch-rival Sebastian Vettel fails to finish the race, Hamilton could do it by finishing as low as sixth. But given his record here and Mercedes’ current pace, it is far more likely that he could lead another 1-2, as he did last time out in Suzuka. In that case everything would be settled with three races still to run.
But while the world wants to know how he would feel about a fifth title, he and Mercedes are refusing even to think about that likelihood.
“It’s nothing particularly special,” he insisted of the potentially historic weekend, because that’s the way he has to approach it. Nothing in racing is set in stone until the chequered flag falls and a large lady prepares to burst into song. “It’s just another race weekend, and of course we want to win [the race]. The weather is going to be a bit up and down, but our approach won’t be any different.
“We remain concentrated on just one race at a time. What might a fifth title mean to me? Again, as a team none of us are saying how cool it would be if that happened here. We are not focusing on that, we are focusing on delivering another win, because in life and in racing you can never be complacent. There are still 100 points available, and Ferrari could punch back here, so we can’t relax. We have to raise the bar again and not think about how great it all might be. And it’s going to be wet all day tomorrow and potentially on Friday, so it’s going to be a tough weekend.”
With a 67-point advantage over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, he needs just another eight points to achieve his goal. And having won the last four races of this season, and five out of the six times that the race has been held here since 2012, the odds clearly favour him.
He will be champion yet again if he: wins with Vettel third or lower; finishes second with Vettel fifth or lower; third with Vettel seventh or lower; fourth with Vettel eighth or lower; fifth with Vettel ninth or lower; or sixth with Vettel not finishing in the points.
He said it was just a coincidence that, having started so strongly, Ferrari’s season imploded in the latter half of the year just as it did in 2017. And admitted that he was as perplexed about their recent woes as everyone else.
“It is just a coincidence, but we have been improving the car all year, our knowledge of what we get out of it; if we knew at beginning what we know at end we would do even better, but that’s just how it is in the sport.
“I haven’t thought about the situation much, but it’s a combination of many things. As a driver I have improved through the years, how I conduct myself and in terms of my performance in the team and in maximising the car. If you go back through all the years I have always said that in the second half I should be better and that is the case, and also the team collectively are doing a better job. And the other side have not done such a good job in that respect. But I don’t have a massive explanation for that; my knowledge is as good as yours in that sense.”
Pushed about what it might mean to equal the legendary Fangio, at one stage of his peripatetic career a Mercedes driver, he said: “I have driven some cars from that era, a Mercedes W196 at Monza with Stirling Moss. That was pretty intense. It was strange to hear the driver’s philosophy back then, when Sir Stirling said it was better to be thrown out of the car if you crashed. Now it’s better to stay stuck in and stay safe. I don’t know that the Fifties was a great time! I’m grateful to be in this era with the technology we have, and to have been a part of it.
“But Fangio was the godfather for us, one of the greats from the beginning, and he will always be admired in the sport, so it’s crazy for me to think of having the same number of championships as he had.”
There was a nice atmosphere of sporting camaraderie here. Hamilton’s old foe, the soon-to-quit-F1 Fernando Alonso whom he bested in his rookie season, spoke of his respect for what he has achieved.
“Probably, at that time in 2007, it was very difficult to imagine what the future could bring for Lewis or all the guys on grid, but he definitely showed his talent to fight for the world championship in his rookie year, and to win it in 2008.
“I am happy for him because he showed that talent from Day One and was able to win races when the car was there to win, but also in some seasons when the car was not top of its form, like 2009. That was impressive. So if one can win five titles in our generation, I am happy it is Lewis.”
And the man himself reiterated support he had expressed for Vettel on social media after the recent Japanese GP, where the German clashed with Max Verstappen and finished only fourth.
“I think if I was in the same position I would probably do the same things as Sebastian did,” he said. “We are all members of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers’ Association), and we all need to stick together. The respect we have for each other is the best it’s been since I’ve been in F1. As a four-time champion I can say that this is the most intense year we have had, and any hiccough is magnified. There have been several times when I’ve been in the firing range and Seb has been really respectful, so I thought it was only just for me to be as well.”
On track, of course, that respect should be there, but for all the need to take it as just another event, it will be crucial contest for both men. One knows that he can reach a new plateau if all goes well, the other that only a really strong comeback performance will get him back into the fight.