By Alan Baldwin
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton rocketed to pole position at what could be a title-deciding U.S. Grand Prix on Saturday before enthusing about space travel and the possibility of one day going into orbit.
"I would go immediately. I would go tomorrow," the Briton, who is on the brink of securing his fourth Formula One world championship, told reporters when asked about a space trip.
"No, I really, really would love to go.
"I know someone that has gone up. It was quite expensive so I don’t know how that’s going to happen. If I win the lottery then definitely, I’m going to go," added the man whose private worth is estimated to be in the many tens of millions.
Joking aside, the self-confessed 'space geek' who visited NASA's Houston training facility earlier in the week has been operating on another plane for some time already on the racetrack.
Since the August break, he has won four of five races while Sunday's pole was his 11th out of 17 in 2017.
At the same time, Ferrari's challenge has imploded and Sebastian Vettel, his closest rival, is now 59 points behind with 100 left to play for. After Sunday, there will be only 75.
Hamilton smashed the Circuit of the Americas track record on his way to an unprecedented 72nd career pole and 117th front row start, and the Mercedes driver dominated every phase of qualifying.
His pole position time last year was one minute 34.999 seconds, a track record at the time. This year, he came close to breaking the 1.32 barrier with a time of 1:33.108.
"It's just unbelievable to watch," said 1996 world champion and compatriot Damon Hill.
Sunday's race will be the sixth in Austin and Hamilton has won four of the previous five.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Hamilton had made clear just how much it mattered to him to stand on top of the podium again in a country that has become his second home.
If he does, he can secure the title should Vettel finish outside the top five -- a definite possibility given the German's two retirements in the last three races but one Hamilton felt was unlikely.
"It’s a bit like a game of chess," said the championship leader.
"Obviously right now it’s check, but there’s still a long, long way to go. There’s still 100 points available. Sebastian and his team are going to be working as hard as they can, as are we. Who knows?"
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)