15 races into the Formula One season and Lewis Hamilton is firmly in the driving seat as he chases a fourth world crown. Following Nico Rosberg’s retirement at the end of last year’s enthralling duel, this season is the first since 1994 where the reigning champion has not competed.
The British star currently holds a 59 point lead over Sebastian Vettel with just four races and 1000 points remaining – it seems predestined that Hamilton will find redemption for the bad luck he encountered last season, which contributed to him losing the title to Mercedes team-mate Rosberg.
Ferrari are certainly under huge pressure to resolve their reliability issues if they are to keep their title dreams alive – Vettel’s challenge has all but imploded in recent outings with a spark plug blowout last weekend at Suzuka coming on the back of an engine problem in Malaysia and his dramatic opening lap crash from pole in Singapore.
This wretched run of form has given Hamilton and Mercedes their first shot at wrapping up the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). The 32-year-old will cement his reputation as the greatest driver of his generation if he outscores the German by 16 points and Valtteri Bottas by three points in Austin, while Mercedes only need to score 17 points more than Ferrari to wrap up a fourth consecutive Constructors’ Championship.
All the momentum is with Hamilton as he returns to a venue where he has triumphed four times in five attempts. Vettel is the only driver other than Hamilton to triumph at Austin, taking the chequered flag ahead of Romain Grosjean five years ago, and he will need to repeat the feat if he is to keep his title flame lit.
Hamilton has become a master of the 3.43-mile counter-clockwise circuit which has been an ever present of the F1 calendar since its introduction in 2012. Featuring gripping elevation changes and containing more left-hand turns than right-hand ones, the COTA places intense physical demands on the drivers as well as providing a stomach-churning examination.
It seems unlikely that Ferrari will have another miserable weekend and they do not appear to have given up just yet having made a late addition to their team by recruiting Maria Mendoza – an expert in metals and chemicals, to their quality control department.
One does not foresee Vettel finishing sixth or lower and this should make for a competitive race in Austin – the 10th United States venue to host an F1 race. However, we fully expect Hamilton to once again pick up the winner’s prize – his record at the COTA is formidable and it is only a matter of time before he equals Vettel and Alain Prost on the all-time list.
Other than the leading two, expect strong performances from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who produced a dominant performance to clinch victory in Malaysia. Verstappen’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo secured a podium place in Austin last year, but we predict that Mercedes will once again leave the chasing pack floundering around the COTA.
Iconic short-distance runner Usain Bolt has been confirmed as the official starter for Sunday’s race, but don’t expect Hamilton to sprint to the title this weekend – Ferrari and Vettel will prolong the inevitable for a little while longer.
USA Grand Prix Outright Odds
Lewis Hamilton – 5/6
Sebastian Vettel – 5/2
Max Verstappen – 14/1