Although Formula One’s annual trip through the Americas appears to have restored Lewis Hamilton to the crushing form he enjoyed in the summer, the Briton arrives at the penultimate round of the championship in Sao Paulo with something of a mountain to climb if he is to win his fourth World Drivers’ Championship.
The defending champion utterly dominated the last round in Mexico and crossed the line with a full eight seconds in hand, in a race Nico Rosberg needed himself to win and Hamilton effectively not to finish if the German was to wrap up the championship early.
But by maintaining a crucial second place behind Hamilton Mexico, Rosberg has ensured that victory in this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be enough to make him Formula One’s 33rd World Champion, regardless of where Hamilton finishes behind him. Such is his points margin that even if Mercedes has a disastrous race, Rosberg could finish as low as seventh and still become champion, providing Hamilton does not score at all.
“[Nico] has it in his hands,” Toto Wolff said ahead of the race. “All this talk of just needing to finish second in order to make it to the end is over. If he wins the race in Brazil, he is champion.”
Wolff also added that “Lewis knows what he must do to keep his title hopes alive. He will never back down and that’s what makes him one of the great ones.”
But not only will Hamilton have to finish ahead of Rosberg on Sunday if he plans to take the title fight on to Abu Dhabi, he will have to do so at a circuit that has never been a particular favourite of his.
Besides Baku, Interlagos remains the only track on the current calendar at which Hamilton has never won, and arguably the only one in which he has been consistently outshone by Rosberg in their time together – Rosberg has comfortably beaten Hamilton to victory in each of the last two Brazilian Grands Prix, and in 2013 finished fifth where the Briton could only manage ninth.
Outside of the Mercedes turbo era, Hamilton’s only other visit to the Sao Paulo podium was back in 2009 with McLaren.
Nevertheless, the past does not always translate into the future in Formula One, and while Nico Rosberg may look to have every advantage in Brazil, you can never afford to discount a driver like Lewis Hamilton when the margins start to narrow.