Championship point: Hamilton could claim title in Texas

Lewis Hamilton will start this weekend’s United States Grand Prix (22 October; 23 October ICT) knowing victory could have him equal title rival Sebastian Vettel’s haul of four Formula One world championships.

After three catastrophic rounds for Vettel — a lap-one crash in Singapore and engine failures in Malaysia and Singapore — the Ferrari driver’s championship deficit to Hamilton has ballooned to an almost insurmountable 59 points.

With four rounds remaining Hamilton need extend his advantage by only 16 points — possible if he wins and Vettel finishes sixth — to claim his prize.

“I think it’s kind of unbelievable,” Hamilton said. “I feel very, very fortunate and really blessed.”

However, the Briton isn’t getting ahead of himself as the championship reaches its end game.

“There’s still a long way to go,” he cautioned. “Anything can happen in life; I’ve just got to try and keep my head down and hopefully continue to perform like this.”

But even if Hamilton were unable to claim the crown in Austin, the diminishing number of points on offer would almost guarantee him the goods one weekend later in Mexico.

Either way the Texas race will surely be a celebratory one for Mercedes, which must prevent Ferrari from outscoring it by 16 points to win its fourth consecutive constructors trophy.

Both titles will be well deserved by their respective silver-clad claimants, but it is tragically ironic that both Vettel and Ferrari are locked out of contention after arguably their three most dominant races of the season.

Indeed Ferrari has had the fastest car throughout its woeful Asian campaign, with its race pace in all three impressive enough to have warranted victory had one of its cars been in a position to seize it.

But potential is one thing and results another, and with the title slipping so rapidly from Maranello’s grasp, talk of recriminations have spread equally swiftly.

Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, divisive for his paranoid iron-fist rule over the team, will reportedly leave the squad on either his terms or those of CEO Sergio Marchionne, whichever comes first.

Ferrari handles defeat notoriously poorly — it comes with territory of being F1’s most successful team — but how it deals with 2017’s agonising double defeat, particularly in the face of a resurgent Red Bull Racing and strengthening Renault and McLaren outfits, will be crucial to its immediate future.

Scuderia Toro Rosso will make its third driver change in as many races when former protégé Brendon Hartley replaces recent F1 debutant Pierre Gasly at the United States Grand Prix.

Gasly suddenly replaced Daniil Kvyat in Malaysia, but the Frenchman has been competing in Japan’s Super Formula, where he trails in the title standings by just half a point, and the final round clashes with the Austin race.

With Toro Rosso releasing Carlos Sainz to Renault after Japan ahead of his 2018 switch, the team found itself in need of temporary a partner for Kvyat.

New Zealander Hartley, a 2015 World Endurance Championship titleholder and 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans winner for Porsche, answered the call.

“What an amazing feeling!” he said. “This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1.

“I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined.”

With Toro Rosso yet to decide on its 2018 driver line-up — Gasly is likely to be retained for a full season but Kvyat’s future is uncertain — Hartley could make himself the biggest winner in the United States this Sunday.