By Bob Constanduros
There’s no doubt that this is a pretty vital eight days for Lewis Hamilton: the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas followed by the Mexican Grand Prix just seven days later. After that, there’s just the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix but if Nico Rosberg’s already substantial 33 point lead grows any bigger in the next eight days then Lewis can pretty much kiss this year’s championship goodbye. Nico already has two match points in his pocket.
But as any driver will tell you – and Sebastian Vettel uttered just these words in the pre-race press conference on Thursday – it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, because anything can happen in Formula One motor racing. So as long as it is mathematically possible for Lewis to win the championship, he can do so and no one will say otherwise. Hands on trophies, touching distance, all but there; forget it, these thoughts don’t exist in a racing driver’s head. When he has an unassailable lead, then Nico can believe he’s won it. Until then, he hasn’t.
(Actually the FIA and even Bernie Ecclestone officially decree that the championship isn’t won until the champion collects his trophy at the FIA Gala, Prize-giving and General Assembly in early December, this year held in Vienna. To many people’s frustration, it should never be announced that a driver has won the title and you won’t find anyone connected to the FIA or FOM doing that. That’s why there’s no special celebration on the rostrum. Everyone else says it, but there’s always the possibility in post-race scrutineering that some anomaly will be found and the championship lost. It’s as set in stone as ‘it ain’t won until it is’ and in this case, that means December in Vienna.)
But I degress. These races are vital for Lewis and to a similar extent to Nico. I think we’re beginning to see a little softening in the attitude of Lewis to Nico. Does this mean that Lewis is letting his teammate get away with it? Hell no (as they’d say around these parts). It’s just that if he is going to be beaten, he’s going to be beaten by a brilliant driver because after all, he’s exactly that. (Never underestimate these guys’ ego and opinion of themselves; it’s what keeps backmarkers going, they know that they’re good, just that they don’t have a good car.)
We were all looking forward to this morning’s press conference to which Lewis was always going to be called, even though he was also called to the last contentious one. He has established himself as a major sporting personality here in the US, so whatever happened in Japan or Malaysia, he was always going to be called to this one. So was he going to behave himself, give some good answers, not draw bunny ears on his colleagues?
It was pretty much standing room only here with a good bunch of locals and international press, eager to find out why some of the British press had been blocked by Hamilton on Twitter and if he was going to be disrespectful to the press as a whole by drawing bunny ears on someone or referring questioners to his facebook page or whatever. Well, there was a moment when he took a selfie – ‘you’re all in it’ – but otherwise it was a regular press conference. Lewis gave good answers and it went on for forty minutes which is a pretty good one for Thursdays. The blocking of British ‘Fleet Street’ journalists was explained only by ‘quite a few people were all blocked at once’ but there was no offer to unblock them.
So it was back to business as usual. This is a good Grand Prix for Lewis and not so good for Nico. They’ve reversed their grid position for the last two years with Lewis using second on the grid to give poleman Nico a nudge at the first corner and take the lead and not to lose it. Of course last year was utterly disastrous when it came to the weather, but this looks much better and indeed, it was 93 degrees (in old money) when we were driving up here from Houston yesterday.
The organisers took a pretty big hit last year with all the cancellations because of the weather, so they’ll be hoping for a redress this year and it looks as if they will get it. This is a massively important race for Formula One, particularly since Liberty Media, the US-based company in line to take over F1, will be here en masse, and joined by all the heavy hitters from FOM and the FIA. I think there will be some pretty serious talks taking place this weekend, and everyone will be on their best behaviour. Not only that but this is a serious B2B Grand Prix with many major sponsors entertaining guest and even holding conferences here. This is the flagship of the US’s drive to welcome and embrace F1 if Liberty Media’s wish is to be granted, and although COTA is on its knees since last year, it is a task it must readily tackle.
I haven’t spoken much about other teams this weekend, perhaps unkindly given Red Bulls’ recent emergence. Ferrari will be up there as well of course, if only scoring points, while the spotlight will be on Haas which I hope they will relish rather than fear! After all, they did qualify in the top ten last time and now it’s a matter of making that stick and score points. It’s a great Grand Prix and as long as the weather holds which it should, we’re going to have a great weekend, showing off Formula One at its best to its most eager potential followers. Let’s hope we have a great race.