By Alan Baldwin
Lewis Hamilton will be aiming for a big win in Texas this weekend, even if the Formula One starting grid is the smallest he has ever known it with the absence of backmarker teams Marussia and Caterham.
The 29-year-old Mercedes driver can become the first British driver to win 10 races in a single season and join Nigel Mansell and the late Jim Clark as the only Britons to win five races in succession.
Another triumph at the Circuit of the Americas, where he won the inaugural race in 2012, would also set him apart from his compatriots with 32 victories – one more than the record he currently shares with 1992 champion Mansell.
But most important of all, Hamilton can land another big psychological blow on German team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg who is 17 points adrift with 100 still to be won from the last three races.
Hamilton loves the Texas circuit, whereas Rosberg has mixed feelings about it, and arrives with Mercedes on a high after wrapping up the constructors’ title in Sochi.
The intention is to turn the focus back to the track after a gloomy week for the sport dominated by talk of financial crisis and teams going into administration, while seriously injured French driver Jules Bianchi is ever-present in everyone’s thoughts.
“We still have three races left to decide the Drivers’ Championship – starting in Austin, which is one of the best weekends of the year,” said the Briton this week.
“A lot of the American side of my family come to the race, plus I won the first ever Formula One Grand Prix at the circuit back in 2012, so it’s a special one for me.
“I really enjoy going there and I’m looking forward to another great race – hopefully ending up with another Stetson hat on the top step of the podium.”
Rosberg’s record is less happy, with the German’s best finish in Austin a ninth place last year when Hamilton was fourth.
“It’s still all to play for… and I won’t be giving up the fight until the flag drops in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep the entertainment going right to the end for the fans out there enjoying the contest.”
With the constructors’ title out of the way, the driver duel will move up a gear even if mathematically it is still a three-way battle.
Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo, the only driver other than the Mercedes duo to win races this year, is 92 points adrift of Hamilton but as good as ruled out.
So too is quadruple world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, last year’s race winner, who is in danger of collecting an engine penalty that will see him starting from the pitlane in Austin.
“I think the reality is that Sebastian will take a sixth engine in Austin because it’s inevitable he’s going to have to use it,” team principal Christian Horner said after Russia. “I don’t think this engine can really go too much further.”
It could be that the German does very little mileage before the race to save the new engine, something that makes him just as unhappy as the fans will be.
“The rule is completely stupid,” he said. “So the people turn on the television and see a driver who just stands around and has nothing to do.”
Mercedes-powered Williams should be in the mix, however, with Valtteri Bottas on a fine run of form.
At the back, there will be the empty spaces where Marussia and Caterham usually line up after both teams went into administration within the space of a week. That leaves just 18 cars, the smallest number since 2005.
It also gives Sauber, who have yet to score this season, marginally more of a chance of regaining ninth place from Marussia in what is almost a home race for Mexican Esteban Gutierrez.
“I am looking forward to having great support from our fans there, which gives me extra motivation,” he said. “The track in Austin is one of my favourites, I love driving there.”