In winning the US Grand Prix on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton put himself in control of the 2014 world championship with two rounds to go; it is now out of Nico Rosberg’s hands as two wins for the German will not necessarily be enough.
Hamilton needs 51 points in the remaining races to be champion if Rosberg wins both races. Hamilton can afford to finish second in Brazil and at the double points finale in Abu Dhabi and still be champion. Mathematically he could also finish third in Brazil and second in the finale and take it on win countback, as Rosberg would have just six wins to Hamilton’s ten.
If Hamilton leads Rosberg home again in a 1-2 in Brazil, then he will go to Abu Dhabi needing to finish fifth or higher to be champion (echoes of Brazil 2008!!). If Rosberg does not finish in Brazil and Hamilton wins the race, then Rosberg would need to win Abu Dhabi with Hamilton not finishing; no other scenario would give Rosberg the title.
What marked Sunday’s race out was that it was very much a “racer’s” victory; Hamilton shadowed Rosberg, as he did with Sebastian Vettel on the same circuit two years ago and after 23 laps of cat and mouse, pounced when Rosberg was not expecting it. Hamilton had twice closed up on Rosberg, at similar phases of the first stint on soft tyres and then on the second stint on mediums. It was a clear signal that he felt confident, while Rosberg, who had surprised with his pace in qualifying, was clearly not able to get into a rhythm early enough in the first phase of the race. But the move, when it came, was from far back and caught the German by surprise. Hamilton used the effect of the headwind to assist his lunge under braking.
It was a risk, of course, at this stage of the season with what’s at stake. After the collision in Spa, the pair have had to recalibrate their racing attitude to each other, but have gone wheel to wheel and Hamilton has come out best each time. This was another example.
“It’s obviously a very good circuit to be able to follow but it’s not easy and it was very hard through the middle sector to try to stay as close to him as possible and get as close as I could to the DRS zone. And I was quite a bit back, I would say, but I felt very confident, there was a big headwind into 12, and I just felt like I was waiting for the moment really, to just be just close enough to throw it up the inside. And that’s what I did. There’s a kind of… you have to decide how much of a risk you’re willing to take. Nico wasn’t defending there really so almost caught him unaware.
Engineers who have worked with Hamilton speak of a driver with an instinctive feel for where to place the car in racing situations; this is one of the reasons why he was surprised in Germany when Button cut across him, as he read it that the McLaren was yielding and also why he was upset in Spa, because he wanted it to be clear that his car positioning had not played a part in that collision.
“Before the race there’s a lot you can do to really understand what opportunities could come up and in different scenarios, how you approach it and I felt very much on top of that as I have done for quite some time,” said Hamilton of his latest move. “I just went into the race with the belief that I could win it. I went into the race thinking I need another race just like 2012 and it was just like that. I was catching him through exactly the same points at which I was catching Sebastian. There wasn’t a moment in the race when I didn’t think that I would get him.
Weighing up the risk is a key part of the picture. Here there was a lot to gain and he had confidence that Rosberg would not read it in time to react and that a collision was unlikely, “During the year you have to be balanced in the risks you take and I think that so far I’ve not been taking too many risks. I’ve done what I’ve needed to do to get by in the safest way, in the cleanest way, which has worked all year, so I should just continue to do the same.
He may have one hand on the championship trophy, but the nightmare scenario for Hamilton now is that he has a technical failure in Abu Dhabi and Rosberg collects the double points (50) and the world title. Speaking in Austin at the weekend he admitted,
“Do I really agree with it? I don’t know if any of us agree with it or do not agree with it, but it is the way it is and you just have to deal with it and just hope for the best really. It would suck if that was the case – big time – but I’m not even going to put that negative energy out there. I’m just going to try and do the best job I can with the car that I have and what will be will be, I guess.”
Meanwhile Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has also expressed regret that the championship story could be overshadowed by the gimmick of double points at the last race.
“I think the last race with the double points has the potential to overshadow the season,” Wolff said. “We know why we have double points, which made sense to make it spectacular for the audience, the fans and the viewers.
“But now we are in a situation where it could change the outcome.”