Hamilton close to championship as musical chairs dominate mid-field talk

59 points. When Lewis Hamilton was asked about the deficit between him and Sebastian Vettel, he simply responded with what we were all thinking: “I couldn’t of even dreamt of that lead.”

Indeed his points lead is the stuff of day dreams, the sort of thing you think of when playing the “what if” game in your head. “What if Vettel crashed into his team mate when they were both leading a race?” or “What if Ferrari had engine problems after such good reliability” or even “What if Mercedes had some engine issues?”

The latter is much more likely to happen than the former, I didn’t expect one of the finest drivers in the world to get it so wrong in Singapore. The conditions were fine to race in and it just counted on the drivers having a bit more discretion than usual, but as it turned out Vettel had his heart set on making life difficult for Max Verstappen heading into the first corner.

He had every right to, as we saw in Malaysia Verstappen knows how to pounce on opportunities and convert track position into a race win – even if the car isn’t perhaps as suited to the circuit as well as its rivals. I feel like the last two weeks have been a taster of what could’ve been if Verstappen’s luck was not as miserable as Fernando Alonso’s throughout the season. “What if Verstappen finished more races? Would he be in the title hunt?”

You can probably spend days dreaming up your own script for how the 2017 Formula 1 season should have went down, but as it so often is with sport you can’t script the moments that shock you either with joy or disappointment. The fact is Hamilton does have a 59-point lead in the championship, and that it will take some cumulation of events that topple his form.

The narrative this season has been all about breaking records, whether it be previous lap records with these new cars or entering new dawns as the amount of poles once held by the great Michael Schumacher gets eclipsed. Hamilton has been at the forefront of all these; breaking the lap records by producing some of the most stunning tours of circuits he’s visited continuously over the last decade.

It makes sense that someone of his experience is able to act as a benchmark for other drivers to aspire to, but it’s just the little bit extra this year I think we’ll look back on in the same way we look back at Schumacher, Ayton Senna, Alan Prost, Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen and so on.

He stands a chance of taking the championship at Austin should he win and Vettel finish sixth or lower. It’s not quite the Hollywood end to his first every championship that we were dreaming of during the off-season when there was just three points in it, but I think we can take some solace in the fact that this year will be one of those we look back on when we think of what made Lewis Hamilton one of the greatest of all time.

It’s been a case of musical chairs in the midfield as Jolyon Palmer will step down at Renault to allow for an incoming Carlos Sainz, who has been loaned out to the team for the foreseeable future. It’s a shame British talent is leaving but as we all know this a results game, and Palmer simply wasn’t delivering.

I always thought his unconventional route into Formula 1 was interesting, especially since most of the grid tend to have similar history (karts, junior formula, F1). He was right last year when saying how the team didn’t give him or Magnussen a fair shot at delivering, but given his pace relative to Hulkenberg this year it’s easy to see why Renault have wanted to replace him quickly.

What is odd is how Toro Rosso have given away their biggest points hauler to Renault, who are just 10 points behind. Surely with Hulkenberg and Sainz they will be able to beat that in one race, and given Williams recent form challenge for fifth in the championship. But for Toro Rosso it will mean less money, which they might want since they will be running Honda engines next year.

The big question is who will replace Pierre Gasly should Honda ask him to complete his Super Formula season? There is still uncertainty over whether Gasly will do the final race next weekend over competing in the US GP. Apparently Honda are insisting he does it, but he would rather stay around for the race in Austin. Either way it would be difficult for Toro Rosso to find a driver, unless they go for the experience of Sebastien Buemi.

The US GP will be the first race in the States since Liberty Media took over the rights to Formula 1 earlier this year, and it is set to be an important one. They’ve altered the timetable to include driver announcements, much like they have in NASCAR at the start of big races (and could likely include a ‘drivers, start your engines!’ command). As we know from previous years, Austin loves making the Grand Prix into a five-day event and bringing exclusives to attendees – Taylor Swift performed her only concert there in 2016.

It is sure to be spectacular and one that hopefully provides an escape from the politics of the country we read about on a daily basis.

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