Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton again set to prove box office - both on and off the track

Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel are the four drivers in Formula 1's glorious history who have won the championship on more than three occasions, so is Lewis Hamilton set to complete the '˜Famous Five'?

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira.

Hamilton feared he may never add to the maiden title he won with McLaren in 2008, but after successive championships, the Stevenage-born racer heads into the new campaign on the brink of Formula 1 immortality.

A visit to your local bookmakers will tell you all you need to know about the new season, which gets under way in Melbourne this weekend.

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Place a fiver on Hamilton to be crowned champion for a third time in as many years and, should the Briton triumph, you will be £2.50 the richer. Not time to give up the day job just yet.

Vettel and his Ferrari team are primed to push Hamilton’s Mercedes all the way after a promising winter, but there really appear to be only two factors which can prevent the 31-year-old Briton from winning title No 4: Nico Rosberg and Hamilton himself.

While Rosberg took Hamilton to the wire in 2014, as is so often the way with sequels, the follow-up failed to match its predecessor.

The German was off colour, off song, and off the top step of the podium for much of the season.

Hamilton ran riot, securing 11 of the opening 12 poles, in addition to winning three of the first four grands prix. The title race was over almost before it started.

Hamilton wrapped up the championship with three races to spare after Rosberg ran off the road in Austin. Rosberg flung a cap in Hamilton’s direction and subsequently attributed the error that handed the title to his Mercedes team-mate to a “gust of wind’’. It was a pathetic excuse, and one that summed up his season.

Yet when the pressure was off, Rosberg stormed to victory at the final three races to provide the neutral with some hope that he can make a better fist of it in 2016.

Now, for Hamilton himself. There are few drivers who have transcended the sport like he has. Hamilton is a marketing dream, mixing in celebrity circles so far removed from Formula 1’s straight-laced paddock.

Bernie Ecclestone has already described Hamilton as the sport’s greatest champion, such is his ability to sell the sport around the world, and the 85-year-old is not wrong.

Hamilton is pure box office both on and off the track.

But will his lust for the A-List life and passion for partying – he even claims to be somewhat of a drinker these days – prove to be his downfall in 2016?

“It seems crazy to question whether Lewis can win another title given that he’s won the last two,’’ said Briton’s 13-time grand prix winner David Coulthard, now commentating for broadcasters Channel 4.

“But you have to ask where his energy is going. He splits his time between F1 and being a global star. That must be frustrating for Nico. I remember being in a similar situation with my McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who seemed to be either driving the car quickly or sleeping in the truck.

“Like I was, Nico must be thinking ‘why can’t I beat a guy whose focus seemsto be elsewhere?’’’

But is Hamilton’s focus really elsewhere? Let us hand over to the man in question for the final say.

“I imagine me and racing as some sort of marriage,’’ said Hamilton, set to start his 10th campaign in Formula 1. “You have to rejuvenate it every year and make it more exciting. Some marriages are boring after 23 years, but some work – you just have to work to make it work.

“Let me say it bluntly: this here – F1 – is what I know how to do best. Yes, there are also other things that I do really well, but nothing compares to that.’’

Case closed then, your honour. Expect title No 4 to follow come the end of the year.