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Hamilton assumes underdog status in unlikely title defence

FORMULA ONE: Lewis Hamilton may have won the race, but he’s still a long way from winning the championship.


Michael Lamonato

Tuesday 25 October 2016, 03:05PM


Lewis Hamilton waves to the crowd after qualifying in pole position during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: Mark Thompson/AFP
Lewis Hamilton waves to the crowd after qualifying in pole position during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: Mark Thompson/AFP

As it has three times since its 2012 inception, victory in the United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas seemed to come easily to Hamilton, who himself has long appeared more at home stateside than in the sport’s European homeland.

Though his Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, kept himself within touching distance for almost the entire weekend, for the first time in what feels like a long time for the troubled Briton the percentages tallied in his favour, delivering him a flawless weekend of easy dominance.

But even with Austin’s full 25 points deposited into his account, Hamilton is as painfully out of control of his title defence as he was in Japan.

The equation written after Rosberg’s win at Suzuka on Oct 16 remains unchanged: the German needn’t win another race to maintain his points lead. With a 26-point lead, finishing second to his teammate will be enough to win him his first title.

Watching the reigning world champion accept this fact since his unlikely engine fire at the Malaysian Grand Prix has been a fascinating lesson in driver psychology.

Whereas in Japan Hamilton was full of ill will towards the Formula One world that had dealt him his difficult hand – against the team for his reliability issues, against the media for its analysis of his shortcomings, against the sport as a whole for not bending to his talent – in Texas he was serene.

But in the serenity were the building blocks of his coping mechanism – Hamilton is determined to propagate the message that if he were to lose the championship, it would not be his fault.

Raising the spectre of his catastrophic Malaysian engine fire, Hamilton pointed to Rosberg’s superior reliability as the foundation of his championship tilt.

“I was just the whole race concerned the car was not going to make it,” he said. “I was just in fear of the same thing, the same feeling, the sound that I heard in Malaysia.

“I have a lot more confidence in [Rosberg’s] reliability. It’s going well for him.”

Hamilton was so amped up about technical gremlins that a precautionary change to his car on Friday night (Oct 21) was enough to trigger his underdog mentality.

“There was a fuel system change … I was down on power compared to Nico,” he insisted after the race.

Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff, however, denied his driver was at a disadvantage.

“No, he was not down on power,” he confirmed to Sky Sports F1. “He had the speed.”

Asked by the same TV station to respond, Hamilton rejected the assertion that he wasn’t fighting a recalcitrant car before again turning the spotlight onto his teammate.

“He’s not had any unreliability," he added. "The law [of averages] would say at same point he would. But if he has perfect reliability through the rest of year, [then] he has perfect reliability, and I can just do my best.”

Though no-one would be able to assert a Rosberg championship wouldn’t be deserved – it’s not the German’s fault Hamilton’s car failed in Malaysia – the prospect of cruising home in second for the rest of the season amid a Hamilton-led campaign against the season’s validity is not in his best interest.

Just as with wins and championships, one needn’t win every battle to emerge victorious from the war – but when winning a war is as much about hearts as it is minds, the final three rounds of the season will be critical to the perceived credibility of the 2016 title.

 

 

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