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Hamilton looks a champion but there's still time for slips


Nico Rosberg celebrates next to Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa after claiming pole position during qualifying for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg celebrates next to Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa after claiming pole position during qualifying for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix

Getty Images

Nico Rosberg celebrates next to Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa after claiming pole position during qualifying for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix

So Lewis Hamilton is edging closer and closer to a second world title. He enjoyed a strategic, not to say psychological, victory in Texas last weekend and he would like to consolidate that in Brazil. He goes into today's race with a 24-point surplus. But with 75 points still to play for - 25 today and 50 in Abu Dhabi in two weeks' time - he cannot claim the title in Sao Paulo.

Nico Rosberg, his team-mate and the only other contender, would like to win the battle on the road but if it comes down to it, he would rather Hamilton had a mechanical failure in Abu Dhabi - the double-or-quits event thrown into the mix this year. I don't think the FIA envisaged team-mates being the only contenders when they dreamed up the hare-brained scheme. In Hamilton's mind, he has his hands on that cup. His body language and his interviews smack of someone destined to win. Maybe his messianic belief is being steered by the guardian angel he has tattooed on his leg. The Autódromo José Carlos Pace holds special memories for Hamilton. In 2008 he won his first title here. Remember it happened in the last corner of the last lap when he got past Timo Glock, who was on worn tyres.

Felipe Massa won the race and thought he had also won the title. His family were celebrating in the Ferrari garage. To watch their distraught faces when Hamilton gained a place at the 11th hour, and with it the single point he needed to win the title, was a cautionary tale in premature exhilaration. Rosberg is hoping Hamilton is suffering from the same symptoms as the German driver clings to his personal dream of emulating his father Keke and entering the pantheon of world champions.

I recall my own experience in believing I had a championship in the bag. It was 1979 and I was leading the British F1 championship. The last race was in Silverstone and Rupert Keegan and myself were the contenders. The wet conditions made for treacherous racing. I came up on the inside of Keegan who was leading the race and we entered Woodcote side by side. Our wheels touched and in tandem we did a pirouette and headed for the catch-fencing.

My car got caught in the unforgiving netting but miraculously Keegan collected a few catch-fencing poles and somehow spluttered his way out of the debris and went on to win the championship. The race was won by Gordon Smiley. I only lost a championship which was nothing compared to Smiley's fate. He was subsequently killed in an accident whilst qualifying for the Indy 500 race in 1982.

In Spa this year, Rosberg collided with Hamilton but the German was able to continue and finish second while Hamilton retired. The gloves were off from then on. Hamilton knows he has the wind in his sails at this juncture. If Rosberg wins today and Hamilton retires, the reset button will take them to Abu Dhabi, the final race and the final showdown. What a fantastic dénouement to a riveting rivalry. Hamilton just has to finish second to Rosberg in both races to ensure the title is his.

The sparse grid in Texas didn't deprive us of a great race but the absence of the four cars of Marussia and Caterham, plus the fact that Sebastian Vettel started from the pit lane was then compounded by the first-lap accident of Sergio Pérez (Force India) and Adrian Sutil (Sauber). Ten thousand visiting Mexican fans were cheated of a hero to cheer for, but at least the FIA didn't ban Pérez from subsequent races because the ever-shrinking grid is guaranteeing immunity from such prosecution. They need all the drivers they can get in this era of austerity in F1.

There is a massive disparity between the budgets of Mercedes which, without taking engine costs into account, is estimated at €255m compared to, say, Marussia's who run their team for a paltry €90m. Promises of greater egalitarianism by way of cost-cutting measures will be played out over the winter as the-show-must-go-on strategy will be deployed to ensure common sense prevails among those who milk the cash cow that is F1.

I'm not sure how a Vladimir Lenin peaked cap would look on Bernie Ecclestone as he faces the revolution of threatened strikes from teams teetering on the brink, but Sauber, Lotus and Force India hold the balance of power in delicate negotiations should they wish to embarrass the number crunchers. It's unlikely however they'll resort to such measures. If they did though it wouldn't be the first time that the sport has faced a boycott from disgruntled participants.

Last year's Brazilian GP was won by Vettel. Massa is the local hero with a respectable chance in the Williams. His team-mate, Finland's Valtteri Bottas, has crept into fourth in the drivers' championship with some great performances. Alonso traditionally does well here. As does Jenson Button. The McLaren driver is reportedly out of a drive as Alonso departs Ferrari to replace the British driver.

Button has had a good innings in F1 and was a lucky 2009 world champion when he teamed up with Ross Brawn, whose use of a controversial diffuser system ensured dominance until the other teams caught up. Button has been a master tactician in many a wet race. Sportscar teams would jump at the chance to employ him and his smooth style would suit that racing. If he wants to prove that McLaren made a fatal error in dumping him over his team-mate Kevin Magnussen, today is the ideal venue, especially if the predicted rain falls on the newly-laid tarmac.

Sunday Indo Sport