It still feels as though it was only recently that we were foreshadowing a titanic down-to-the-wire duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel for the 2018 championship, but all too soon the fight for the title will come to a fizzling close.
The season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of November feels painfully distant, but this weekend, the fourth-last round of the season, Lewis Hamilton is poised to beat generational rival Vettel to a rare fifth world championship and build on his growing legacy.
Now for the fun part: the mathematics. Although a Hamilton championship is just about a done deal, Vettel could still force the title race to go one more unlikely round to Mexico City next weekend.
The victory equation is straightforward, with Lewis required to score eight more points than Sebastian to get the job done. Extrapolated, if Vettel finishes:
Hamilton cannot win the championship in Austin if Vettel finishes second or higher.
Form, both current and historical, points towards Hamilton winning the championship this weekend. The Briton has won four of the five races since the midseason break — indeed all four have come in succession after Vettel won the first race back in August in Belgium. Sebastian, on the other hand, has an average finishing position of 3.4 in that same time.
The prevailing trend would need only to continue to guarantee Hamilton the requisite points haul.
There could be few better places for Hamilton to deal his rival the fatal blow, too, having won all bar one race at the Circuit of the Americas since its 2012 inauguration. He even won the only other United States Grand Prix to take place during his career, at Indianapolis in 2007.
But even if the championship race were to continue to Mexico City, Vettel’s outlook would be only bleaker there, where Hamilton would have to score only one point to seal the deal.
Assuming even that Vettel wins in Austin after Hamilton retires with a mechanical failure, Lewis would still need to outscore Vettel by only eight points to finish the job.
In summary, ready your Union Jacks and skim the lyrics of God Save The Queen, because what’s coming can’t be stopped.
One gets the sense, too, that Hamilton is even letting himself believe he’s got the job done, because with Ferrari’s failed campaign already being eulogised and with Vettel’s error-ridden season under the microscope as a result, the championship leader allowed himself to divert some focus to the plight of his red-clad rival.
“I feel the media need to show a little more respect for Sebastian,” he said. “You simply cannot imagine how hard it is to do what we do at our level.
“It is to be expected that, being humans, we will make mistakes, but it is how we get through them that counts.”
As much as this was a moment of magnanimity before he puts Vettel to the sword, Hamilton’s commentary can also be read as a reflection on the season of his Mercedes team, which hasn’t simply allowed Ferrari to trip over itself in its pursuit for a fifth consecutive constructors championship.
Mercedes, don’t forget, spent much of 2018 on the back foot as it attempted to defend against a rapid Ferrari riding a wave of confidence.
In the process it had some devastating lows — lead-losing strategy errors in Australia and Austria, the latter compounded by a double technical retirement; a lengthy string of misfortune that cost Valtteri Bottas several wins; and grid penalties and qualifying errors that left both drivers to start from the back of the grid on numerous occasions — but it responded strongly each and every time to keep the pressure on Ferrari in the hope the Italian team would crack. The results speak for themselves.
“I’ll take it one step at a time,” Hamilton said after the previous race in Japan. “But I think we have gone from strength to strength this year as a team.
And of course the Briton himself deserves plaudits for perhaps the strongest season of his career. Another emphatic victory at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix to claim a rare fifth championship, in the process joining an exclusive club comprising only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, would be the only fitting conclusion.
“Austin is usually a good track for us, so I can’t wait to unleash this beast there,” he foreshadowed, and it would be brave to bet against he and his team being on anything but top form.
And if that’s the case, the title is surely only a formality.