Lewis Hamilton has identified securing pole position as critical to his prospects of delaying, or even derailing, Nico Rosberg’s title push at this weekend’s Brazilian GP.
The German driver will be crowned world champion on Sunday evening if he claims his third successive victory at Interlagos. Rosberg’s success at Sao Paulo is in sharp contrast to his team-mate’s struggles: Hamilton, whose helmet this weekend has been adorned with a tribute to his idol Ayrton Senna, has never won in Brazil.
Why hasn’t Hamilton won the Brazilian GP?
While the odds thus far appear to be stacked against Hamilton, the world champion has recently rediscovered his mojo in adversity, winning the US and Mexican GPs to cut Rosberg’s title lead to 19 points after the German had surged 33 points clear a month ago when he won in Japan.
But what Hamilton needs now is his first-ever win at Interlagos – and to heed a lesson from history. In 2014 and 2015, Rosberg claimed pole ahead of Hamilton by less than a tenth of a second with the Englishman then enduring a pair of frustrating race days around the narrow and overtaking-unfriendly Interlagos circuit.
“You have to have a really big delta to the car in front here [to overtake],” Hamilton told Sportsclubsociety F1. “The last two years I’ve been right up behind the back end of the car in front and it’s been impossible to overtake.
“Position is everything this weekend so l will be gunning for pole position.”
Hamilton seized the early iniative in Friday practice, edging out Rosberg at the top of the timesheets in both sessions. But the margins separating the two Mercedes drivers pointed to a closely-fought contest this weekend – after Hamilton beat Rosberg by two tenths of a second in Practice One, Rosberg was just a few hundreths behind in Practice Two.
It remains distinctly possible Hamilton will end the season with four consecutive victories to finish 2016 as the ‘moral champion’ while Rosberg will be crowed the bona-fide champion merely by cruising to second place in both Brazil this Sunday and the campaign-concluding Abu Dhabi GP.
But Hamilton will take no solace in any expression of superiority over his team-mate unless it’s sufficient to claim his fourth world championship.
“Nobody remembers if you were the ultimate best driver, they just remember who was the champion,” said Hamilton. “I’m not looking at anything other than winning the races. It’s a simple viewpoint.”
Nevertheless, Hamilton must know his cause would be greatly assisted if either Red Bull or Ferrari join the fight at the front to complicate Rosberg’s progress. As Red Bull chief Christian Horner put it: “We can be Lewis’ best friend this weekend.”
When’s the Brazilian GP on Sky F1?
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff rounded on Max Verstappen two weeks ago for his rough handling of Rosberg in Mexico, arguing “you could say Max should have got a penalty for banging the wheels with the championship leader in Turn One and pushing him off the track”, but the prospect of either Verstappen or his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo treating either world championship combatant with kid gloves this Sunday is remote.
“Just because they are fighting [for the title] doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make an overtake,” said Ricciardo. “I drive respectfully but I will race hard. If there is an opportunity to win I will go for it.”
Even in his own single-minded pursuit of victory, the potential usefulness of those sentiments are unlikely to have been lost on Hamilton.