Down at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton knows that a real tour de force is necessary this weekend just to keep his title hopes alive, and that means not only beating team mate Nico Rosberg for the third successive year in Austin, but hoping that his rival meets some sort of mechanical difficulties similar to those which have plagued him at times this year. Of course, the latter is a point that Hamilton cannot voice himself as a loyal team member, but he knows that both are tall orders, given the form the German has been enjoying of late.
Inevitably, much hoopla surrounded the reigning champion’s off-track activities, after his appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres TV show further boosted both his - and F1’s - US image, and his upcoming role in the Call of Duty game. But though his critics suggest that such distractions have helped Rosberg’s title challenge in 2016, Hamilton himself was all business as he spoke of his intentions on track where he effectively has 34 points to make up if he is going to retain his crown.
“Austin… America, has always been a good hunting ground for me. I’ve been out here for a week already, so I’m looking forward to fighting again. This is a fantastic track. They did a very good job with the design. It’s one of the few of the newer circuits that really allows good overtaking and following of cars, which is always difficult in Formula One. Yeah, I’m here, I know the weather is going to better this weekend, so particularly for the fans that will be great and yeah, I’m excited.
“Honestly, I don’t look back [on what’s happened so far this season]. There’s very little point to look back, it’s only looking forwards. As I’ve said, there’s obviously the four races but I’ve still got hopefully some time here in my career for better days. I’m obviously aware that you can’t always have great races and it’s a long, old season. But no-one’s perfect; all I can do is work as hard as I can with the team. We’ve got a great car, a great team, there’s no reason why we can’t have more positive weekends moving forwards.”
He revealed that he spent a lot of time at Mercedes in Brackley after Japan, where naturally there were heavy celebrations of the team’s third successive world championship for constructors, working on improvements to the clutch and starting techniques.
“There’s been a lot of changes, a lot of work, perhaps more than in other areas. I was at the factory last week and we were working very hard to cover up all areas so we hope that we have a slightly better formula this weekend. If not, then there will be a better formula next weekend, but I definitely feel that we’re in a better position so fingers crossed for Sunday.”
He also stressed that the sore foot which prevented him from doing Pirelli tyre tests in Barcelona is now okay.
“I’m 100 percent, feeling great. I basically had an injury that I’ve been carrying generally all year long, in both feet. Just induced by running. Unfortunately, the physio said that it just takes a lot of stretching and it just heals over a long time. At the time I woke up in the morning, I was feeling quite a lot of pain the day before, and it hadn’t diminished, so there was very little… the most important thing was to be fresh for here and feeling better for here. This is actually the first week that it’s felt good.”
Of the fight with Rosberg, and whether it’s harder this year to take defeat because more often than not during their respective careers he’s been the one with the upper hand, he said: “Not really. We’ve always been having close races, close battles. I think in all fairness to all of us here, if all things were equal in whatever our scenarios are, there would be a certain result. Obviously this year it’s been a little bit different in terms of how our performances have been, particularly mechanically. And there’s nothing you can do about that. But, out of the 10 times the car has been good – whatever it is – I’ve often done the job with it but then there definitely have been a few that, probably in the first few seconds of the race, which have not gone that well. But that’s motor racing.”
And if he loses the title this year he made it clear there won’t be anything as dramatic as a sabbatical as a reaction, and that he’d take the loss in his stride.
“I don’t plan on taking any sabbaticals. If I stop, I stop, that will be the plan. And, if I lose I’ll try to take it like a man. You can’t win them all. Look at all the world champions in the past who’ve won championships and lost championships, it’s part of the game. I’m in the position right now where there are still a lot of points available so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and I still have the belief that anything is possible. But then I’ll move on.
“Once it’s decided and it happens, all I can do about it is shape the future, which is the next year. So, life will move on, we’ll go into next season and hopefully come back stronger.”
Hamilton’s fellow Austin winner, Sebastian Vettel, is also hoping for a much better 2017 after this year’s hugely disappointing campaign for Ferrari. But he said he refuses to believe the red cars might not be able to snatch a win before 2016 is done.
“I think there is always a chance. I think obviously in Japan we did some progress, so that was a positive, but it was probably was a good summary of our season so far. Nevertheless, I think the most important thing is that we fight, we give everything we have, and it could have been a bit better strategically in Japan, it wasn’t and so we’re ready for this race.
“The new parts, I think, were a step forward; both Kimi (Raikkonen) and myself like the car straight away. I think it gave us quite good performance. Japan usually is quite a good test for the overall performance of the car, so here you can argue it’s similar in some ways. The first sector has a lot of fast corners as well, the last sector is a little bit slower but overall, yeah, it gave us a good indication for this year and then there’s always some things that you learn.
“Next year the rules are changing quite a lot - but still, every bit you understand about the car and how it works will help you also for the future.”
He also made it clear that his focus is still this season and next, rather than renewal of his contract beyond 2017.
“I think we are all fairly busy at this time to focus on the four races that are left and in particular to prepare for next year, so I think that’s where, honestly, the main focus lies. I don’t think it’s that important to look into details such as my contract. It’s all fine for next year, so as I said, with a lot of things happening back at the factory, back in Maranello, we’re very, very busy and that’s where I want the focus to be.”
Vettel also gave his old rival some words of encouragement, and said he believes Hamilton’s title challenge is still realistic despite the 33-point gap to Rosberg.
“Of course it’s realistic, because I think he’s quick enough. It’s realistic because there’s a lot of points to get and I think it would be quite bad if you quit now. If I could swap, I would immediately go for it, so I’m sure that he goes for it and four races is a lot of laps to do, a lot of things that can happen. So it’s only over when it’s over.”