Lewis Hamilton’s already considerable chances of confirming his third Formula One world championship here this weekend have been boosted by the news that his main rival Sebastian Vettel has been hit by a 10-race grid penalty for Sunday’s US Grand Prix.
Hamilton leads the championship by 66 points with four races to go. That means he has to beat Vettel by nine points and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by two to take the title. In other words, if Hamilton wins this weekend Vettel must come at least second to take the championship to the next round in Mexico on Sunday week.
Ferrari plan to introduce a new engine for the Austin race as they plot to make a serious challenge to Mercedes’ overwhelming supremacy in 2016. But because they have already used up their allotted four engines they will be penalised for taking a fifth.
“We will have the hit of a 10-place penalty for a new engine at this event, but it has always been the plan,” said Vettel here on Thursday. “It’s not a big secret, no surprise for us. This was always the plan for us, to have the strongest engine available at every single point of the season. I think our engine guys have done a massive job, so this should not be understood as a downside. If anything this is very positive.”
He added: “For sure, in an isolated sense, it’s not great news, but the priority was always to have maximum power at every single race. It has worked very well so far. We have to take the hit here but you have to see the positives, because we are able to make big steps.”
Meanwhile Hamilton, who could win the championship with three races remaining, would like to see more competition in future.
He said: “I want to see closer racing. It needs to be like go-karting was, wheel to wheel. We need to try and make Formula One a little bit more like that, somehow. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. But it needs to be a lot different to how it was in the last few years. The DRS doesn’t feel organic. It doesn’t feel like natural racing.”
Hamilton has won nine of the 15 races to date in what has been his most dominant season in F1. In his previous two championship seasons, in 2008 and 2014, he did not clinch the title until the last race of the year.
“I don’t feel I have any added pressure,” he said. “My goal is just to win the race. And whatever follows after that. But I don’t care whether it is this weekend or next weekend or Abu Dhabi.”
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