司空皑
2019-06-01 09:19:24

It is appropriate that , Formula One’s most lustrous driver, has come to the US, the home of Tinseltown, for his latest and most important starring role. It is fitting, too, that he has come to the biggest and loudest state of them all, for Texas, rather like Hamilton himself, is a place that defies indifference.

What Hamilton is on the verge of achieving in the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday is momentous. He could become only the 10th driver to win three world championships – and the first Briton to successfully defend his title.

If he succeeds – and he has to defeat Sebastian Vettel by nine points and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by two to do so – he will also haul himself alongside , his idol to the point of obsession and the man considered by many to be the greatest F1 driver of them all.

Only two men, Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost, have won more races and Prost is within DRS range. A proper assessment can be made only at the end of his career but he already must be counted alongside Jim Clark and Sir Jackie Stewart as one of Britain’s finest three drivers – and in world terms there are only a few ahead of him on the immortal grid. He is only 30 years old.

These are heady days, stetson-on-the-head days, perhaps, for he is the favourite to win in the US for the third time in four Austin races. For a while at least, however, Hamilton, with a practised insouciance, a shrugging, head-shaking, cuff-inspecting air of nonchalance, tried to play it down.

Did it feel like a big moment in his life? “Honestly, it doesn’t. At the moment it just feels like another weekend. It really does.”

He explains this, partly, by reminding us of what happened in 2007, when in Hamilton’s thrilling rookie season. “In 2007, I put extra pressure on myself. In Fuji, in China and the last race, it was horrible. I’m just going to continue to enjoy driving the car and what will be will be.”

Did he consider himself a legend? Another shrug. “I feel that legends are generally people who are the older generation. I don’t know of any legends at my age. I don’t even see Usain Bolt as a legend. It’s an age thing. When he retires he might be seen as a legend. He’s a legend as a friend but I don’t look at him like Michael Jordan.”

Hamilton, surrounded by people, looked as lonely as a poet. Gradually, though, for this is a passionate and excitable fellow, the scale of what he is about to achieve – there are three more races after this in which to convert his 66-point lead into a championship – began to excite him.

Had he won any championship from start to finish before this? “I have not led all year, have I? Wow, man! Last year I was behind from day one. This has been the best year. I honestly thought last year was the best year. I sat at Christmas thinking it could not get any better than that – but it has and I cannot believe it, really. I had those setbacks last season, and I was like: ‘Jeeze, I’m 29 points behind, this is tough.’ Compared to last year it’s more relaxing.”

Now, his brown eyes danced and he leaned forward with eagerness. “I can imagine winning three titles is like getting to the top of Mount Everest and thinking, what next? I am going to keep wanting to win. That is never going to change. I have that competitiveness in me. It’s in my blood.

“The other day we were bowling and we had some girls with us, and I could not for the life of me let them win.

“That competitiveness will always be there. I cannot fathom it. I never thought I’d have three [titles]. I never thought I’d get two, let alone three.”

Jenson Button, Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate for three years, had no doubts about him achieving a hat-trick. “I said at the end of 2014 that Lewis would come back and annihilate the championship,” Button said. “He has come out and really done it. Look at qualifying. He has been on top of his game and done a great job.

“He is obviously unbelievably quick – you can’t take that away from him. He did an amazing job against Fernando Alonso in his first season in 2007. He almost won the championship. He should have won the championship.”

There are still some to churlishly begrudge him his due, who cannot understand his sometimes bizarre, jet-setting lifestyle. What they don’t realise is that this child of Neverland, this escapee from the control freakery of first his father and then Ron Dennis, his old boss at McLaren, is only just, belatedly, starting to find himself.

As a driver, he found himself some time ago. It’s showtime in Texas and, with all respect to Vettel and Rosberg, all eyes are on only one man.