x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Title dream close for cool Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, cruelly denied the world title in his debut season a year ago, is again on the verge of fulfilling his boyhood dream.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates in front of the world's media after winning yesterday's Chinese Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates in front of the world's media after winning yesterday's Chinese Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton, cruelly denied the world title in his debut season a year ago, is again on the verge of fulfilling his boyhood dream after showing tremendous character at the end of a difficult week to turn yesterday's Chinese Grand Prix into a virtual procession, claiming his fifth victory of the year and the ninth of his career.

The British driver could not conceal his excitement at moving to the brink of history - he will be the sport's youngest ever champion if he finishes in the top five in Brazil on Nov 2 or if Felipe Massa fails to finish in the top two - but swiftly tempered his emotions in the knowledge that he went into the thrilling climax of the season 12 months ago in an equally strong position of leading eventual champion Kimi Raikkonen by seven points.

This time, however, he has only the second-placed Massa, the man who chased him to the chequered flag in Shanghai yesterday, to worry about. Surely Hamilton, wiser and more experienced after his rookie heartbreak when he could only finish seventh at Interlagos, will be able to keep the moody Massa in his sights when the Brazilian will be seeking to give his home crowd a final day of glory. Massa, who finished almost 15 seconds behind Hamilton yesterday, courtesy of a frowned-upon but understandable gesture by his Ferrari teammate Raikkonen, who surrendered the runners-up position to present his colleague with two precious extra points, knows that a Sao Paulo victory is imperative to maintain his hopes of keeping the title in Ferrari hands.

He knows also, however, that even standing on top of the podium in front of his Sao Paulo fans may not be enough to deprive a buoyant Hamilton, who provided the perfect answer to those who criticised the manner of his driving in Japan a week earlier when he finished pointless after what was described as an immature Fuji performance. The clinical composure that was missing in Japan returned in emphatic style in China where he dominated from virtually the moment he landed in Shanghai.

Impressive work in practice, which was rewarded with another pole position, was followed by an impeccable drive from start to finish. The only time he was not in front was during the first of his two pit stops. "After my second stop we were pretty much cruising and I knew I just had to keep my head and remain calm," was his verdict on one of the more routine days at the office. "It was quite comfortable that I was able to do that. It wasn't tough at all."

Hamilton was grateful for the support he has received from his McLaren team and the encouragement from his fan base as he strove to get his title crusade back into top gear. "We came here and the car felt fantastic all weekend - I owe so much to the guys, not just at the track but at home," he enthused. "The car is really a dream to drive. "It was a fantastic team effort so a big thanks to them." Hamilton will be anxious to take the Chinese rather than Japanese form from his Jekyll and Hyde visit to the Far East into South America.

He is actutely aware that his mission is far from finished and could yet develop into another painful conclusion. "Today's victory was quite straightforward but it will be tough in Brazil with Ferrari pushing hard," he warned. The man who is an overwhelming favourite to become Britain's eighth world champion, but the first since Damon Hill 12 years ago, would undoubtedly have preferred to have clinched the elusive crown yesterday but it is tremendous for the multi- million dollar industry that the main issue again goes to the wire.

Brazilian administrators will be delighted by that and those who have worked tirelessly to bring the circus to Abu Dhabi for the first time a year from now will be hoping that the world's best drivers are locked together again when they arrive at Yas Island for a potentially decisive battle around the Marina Circuit on what will be an historic day for the UAE. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae