By Alan Baldwin
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton could be crowned Britain’s first four-times Formula One world champion in Texas this weekend while Mercedes are on the brink of a fourth consecutive constructor’s title.
The chances of Mercedes, 145 points clear of Ferrari with four races remaining, wrapping things up in Austin appear to be overwhelming.
Everything is also stacking up for Hamilton to become only the fifth driver to win more than three championships since the first in 1950, with British bookmakers offering odds of 1/50 on him taking the title.
That compares to 14/1 for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton’s closest rival, and 300/1 on Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
While the team may be celebrating on Sunday night, Hamilton may find he has to wait, however.
To do it in Austin, the Briton must finish in the top two and then see where Vettel ends up.
Hamilton currently enjoys a hefty 59-point advantage, with 100 still to be won. He must score 16 more than his German rival on Sunday to prevent the title battle continuing to Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on the following weekend.
Third place is worth 15 points and will not be enough.
Even if Hamilton wins in Austin, he will be champion only if Vettel finishes no higher than sixth. If the Briton comes second, then Vettel has to finish eighth or higher to stay in the game.
Reliability, or lack of it, will be a key concern on both sides.
Vettel has failed to finish two of the last three races in Asia, one due to a first lap collision and the other a spark plug problem, and cannot afford any further unreliability on Ferrari’s part.
However, before his nightmare run the German had not finished lower than seventh since Malaysia in Oct. 2016, when he retired with damaged suspension after a collision.
He was fourth in Austin last year, when Mercedes had a one-two finish.
This year Vettel has finished all but six races on the podium and three of those outside the top three were fourth places.
Hamilton has won eight times and finished second three times in 16 races.
Austin has also been particularly good to him with four wins in five years including the last three. Vettel won with Red Bull in 2013.
Even if Mercedes dominate one-two, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen prove to be the closest rivals, the chances are that Vettel will still finish in the top five in a race without incident.
In the constructors’ championship, Ferrari need to outscore Mercedes by 17 points to prevent them retaining the title in Austin.
The only occasion Ferrari have done that this season was in Monaco in May when Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finished one-two while Hamilton was seventh and team mate Valtteri Bottas ended up fourth.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ian Ransom)