Lewis Hamilton does not believe a fourth world championship crown will elevate him above his childhood hero Ayrton Senna in the pantheon of Formula 1’s all-time greats.
Hamilton has a shot at further glory in Mexico City tomorrow and needs to finish only fifth there to beat Sebastian Vettel to the title.
The odds are stacked heavily in his favour. The Briton has finished in 22 consecutive grands prix and, of all those occasions, he has failed to finish outside the top five just once.
Indeed Mercedes’ imperious reliability coupled with Hamilton’s potent form – he has won five of the six races since the summer break – leaves him on course to surpass Sir Jackie Stewart as the only British driver to be the owner of more than three championships.
Hamilton’s idol Senna won three titles before his death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Hamilton, who broke down upon hearing the news, surpassed the Brazilian’s number of victories in 2015, before eclipsing his haul of pole positions in Canada this year.
“Ayrton’s life was cut short and had he had the opportunity to continue and race in safe conditions, he would have won more championships,” Hamilton, 32, said.
“I don’t look upon him and think that I am better because I have more wins, more championships and more poles, but I feel very proud that my name is mentioned alongside his.
“The bucket list at the moment is winning the fourth world championship and then after that it is on to next one.”
Hamilton will have his mother Brenda with him this weekend, while Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez will be in his corner, too.
Hamilton’s father Anthony – the man who shaped his remarkable career – could also be among the Mercedes driver’s guest list on Sunday. Hamilton Snr flew out to Abu Dhabi on the morning of his son’s championship triumph back in 2014, and he will take a late decision as to whether he is here to watch a probable fourth coronation.
The title battle looked set to go to the wire, but rival Vettel’s failure to finish two of the three grands prix staged in the Far East has left Hamilton with one hand on the title.
Hamilton only led the championship for the first time this year following his dominant victory at September’s Italian Grand Prix.
Indeed, Hamilton trailed Vettel by 25 points after the Ferrari driver roared to victory in Monaco and he could finish only seventh. But after establishing an eye-watering 66-point lead over Vettel, he needs just nine more.
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff claimed earlier this week that the Englishman is now on course to be regarded ahead of Senna, Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the greatest grand prix driver of all time.
“Toto gets to see a side that many of you don’t,” Hamilton added. “He is watching very closely because if I don’t get the job done, then I am out.
“It has been quite an interesting dynamic between us – how it has shifted over the past year – and I take a lot of pride and satisfaction from when we had a meeting discussing the last contract.
“I said to him ‘you are going to need me because at some stage we are going to be fighting Ferrari and I am going to go to the end of the earth to make sure we win’. So every time when I beat Sebastian, I am like ‘I told you’, and he replies: ‘Yes I know’.”
Hamilton survived a spin as Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo led the way in yesterday’s second practice.
He was second in both practice sessions at a sun-blazed Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas set the pace on Friday morning, but it was Ricciardo who topped the time sheets in the day’s second running.
Ricciardo posted a best lap of one minute and 17.801 seconds to finish 0.131 secs clear of Hamilton with Max Verstappen third in the sister Red Bull.
Vettel was fourth in the order, one quarter of a second slower than Ricciardo.
Hamilton made a rare error in the opening moments of second practice, losing control of his car on the exit of Turn 11 before sliding into a spin. Hamilton destroyed his set of tyres – which may affect his race strategy.